Social Anxiety and the Reality of Louisville JASNA

“Elizabeth could bear it no longer. She got up and ran out of the room…”

“…Elizabeth was forced to put it out of her power by running away.”

Years ago, I was a leader in my profession. I spoke at national conferences, local reporters sought me out for a quick comment every month or two, and important policy-making groups invited me to join as an active and knowledgeable board member. I sat at the best tables at local fundraisers, was selected to represent my profession in a nomination for a local YM-YWCA award, and lost out to Bill Nye, the Science guy for a prestigious national award in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) awareness! During that time, I still personally facilitated STEM  awareness activities with grade 5 classes a couple of times a year, just for fun.

I was terrified in casual social situations with larger groups of people, therefore, at the multitude of social events that required my face, I fortified myself with wine ahead of time and during the event. You see, added to the mix of mental health acronyms I have been labelled with is Social Anxiety Disorder.

When serious mental illness took over my life (treatment-resistant depression and PTSD, among others), I was no longer able to participate in most mainstream activities, and my involvement in my profession and related volunteer activities ramped down quickly. Alcohol and caffeine hinder the efficacy of more appropriate medications, so I chose to eliminate them in favour of getting well. Even though I’ve been treated with CBT (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy) with exposures for the social anxiety, I still find myself frozen in new social situations.

Fast-forward to my enjoyment of all things Austen, and my intent to attend the JASNA AGM in Louisville this fall to absorb the intellectual side of my fascination. The trouble is, I know only three people who also plan to attend, and I’ve have only met one of them in real life. Of course I’m more than a bit nervous! It only got worse after an experience of last weekend.

I went to my local JASNA meeting on Saturday in hopes of meeting more than the three people I interact with on Facebook. I had forgotten the meeting, and saw the reminder on FB ninety minutes before, just as I was about to eat lunch. I barely had enough time to change my clothes and drive over.

They ask for $5 and some treats from those attending, but obviously, I had no time to bake something. Last time, I had missed the fine print about the treats, yet I ate enough for three Suzans while I sat by myself, watched everyone else chat, and longed to join them. I very nearly decided not to go this time because I would once again be empty-handed.

I thought of an alternate offering, and poor DH watched me tear apart my house and almost destroy a cherished painting in the box that also holds extra copies of “the book” (my novel, Alias Thomas Bennet). I wrote a cute note inside and signed it, intending to throw it in with the door prizes as my offering in lieu of treats.

On the way, I contemplated stopping at Walmart and snagging some Little Debbie’s, but I was late already, and uncertain of the route. JASNA events are usually held in a church hall near the intersection of Cedar Hill Road and Cedar Hill Cross Road. Yup. No chance of confusion there. There are few other roads that intersect for a shortcut, as there’s a small mountain in the way. I stressed over getting lost, as well as about being caught putting my earrings on at red lights, as the local police have ramped up their distracted driving campaign. Of course, the backs never want to meet the posts when you’re in a rush.

The presentations had started when I entered, so I missed the chance to talk to the lady who organizes the door prizes (one of the three I “sort of” know). She was in the middle of the room, which was full of chairs wall-to-wall, and I wound up on a sofa off to one side, by myself. I enjoyed the talks on members’ varying experiences at JASNA Montreal, and one lady promoted her own newly-published novel, so I felt better about bringing mine.

Yet, when the time came to draw for door prizes, I froze. I couldn’t offer to add “the book” in front of everyone!–How would that make me look? I couldn’t even drum up the courage to collect my draw ticket when they offered them to latecomers!

Watching the draws relaxed me a bit. It was fun to see the Jane Austen toothpaste and other items distributed. Then, it was announced that the treats would come out, and we could socialize. The major fear and anxiety that had gripped me returned, but it ramped up even more. I couldn’t handle this!

I sought out The Door Prize Lady. As soon as she finished speaking to another lady, I shoved the brown-paper envelope with “the book” into her hands and said “someone” donated it for a door prize for next time. I didn’t even wait for her to peek inside, just turned to leave. She asked if I could stay, and I said I had a lot of commitments (which is totally true–I’m so over-committed, it’s eating up my soul).

The other lady I knew was busy in the kitchen making dainty trays. (I suspect she’s appointed herself The Boss of Food because she’s shy, too.) As I passed by the kitchen on my way out, she stopped me to ask about The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment blog, and I babbled on uselessly for a minute, then bolted again.

I don’t know how I’m going to handle Louisville. When I first announced I was going, a number of Chat Chits said they’d join me, but reality set in for them. I’ll keep you up-to-date on whether I can be comfortable with that, or take a cue from Elizabeth, and run away, like I did last weekend.

I apologize to those who expected a post on shoes. The project will continue, whether or not I can find a place I’m actually comfortable wearing the costume. I’m having a great deal of fun creating it, though juggling my time has been taxing. The good news is, I found “The Dress!”

day dress

Guest Blog: Lady Suzan Rosanna Catron de Lawedre of the Bass

The Dear Austen Costume, or, All your Pin Money for a Simple Gown!
by Lady Suzan Rosanna Catron de Lawedre of the Bass

If I could release a long exasperated sigh at the fashion sense of my great-grandniece and goddaughter in respectable company, I fear I would never inhale again, since it occurs all too often. Lime green is her new favourite, second only to a hot, slightly peachy pink.

Miss Suzan Rosanna Lauder, my namesake, does have some redeeming qualities, that being a love for the literature of Miss Jane Austen and the history of Miss Austen’s time. Sometimes I worry she spends too much time chatting with the Meryton Literary Society researchers, but I cannot complain about one achievement this crazy passion brought about: Meryton Press published Suzan’s popular novel Alias Thomas Bennet, a romance/mystery based on Pride and Prejudice. Auntie is proud enough for all the aunties in the universe going back to Miss Austen’s time!

Yet my Suze’s main personal flaw ties in with the history she soaks in: the gowns of the Regency era, which I find so tiresome I cannot speak, fascinate her and she wants nothing less than to see and feel and wear such beauty. Pffftttt!!! This sort of passion should be reserved for the more naturally ladylike Victorian wear, not Regency!

I am told the sellers of reasonable reproductions of these gowns charge at least $300, and less expensive versions are cheap—oh yes, I meant to say it that way—poorly constructed or not authentic. The better products are handmade and fitted for that price, in appropriate fabrics. Then, one must double her dress budget to add the accoutrements of the full Regency costume, like shoes and purse. I am flabbergasted. Couldn’t she have a cheaper hobby, like port tasting? A nice prunes and dry cocoa VSOP and she would forget how high her waistline sits.

For the enlightenment of the intelligent masses familiar with the lovely elaborate styles of the Victorian period, but ignorant of its differences from the beat-of-an-eyelash time period covered by Regency England (1811-1820), I will describe the shortcomings of the Regency period costume.

Those bonnets should not appear in any location except a farm: straw visors with tea cosies perched upon them! The hats are not a great deal better. Some have a chimney in place of said tea cosy, but most are low, shapeless things. Every wearer dons a big feather and a few little berries, but not much else to decorate the hat. Scant trim, narrow brim!

Shapeless becomes a theme in these fashions when we go on to examine the gowns that show the figure of the wearer so well, they may as well be wrapped in my parlour draperies, save the close-fitting bodice. The skirt is so high under the bosom it is impossible to know if the wearer owns a waist, making any attempt at cinching a corset worthless.

And that is no matter, since the corsets are not constructed to cinch the waist, rather, they are merely devices to raise the bosom to extraordinary heights. Some wear short stays for this reason: why care about your waist? My niece lamented she doesn’t quite trust a true Regency corset to hold on to “the girls” and worries they may fall out. Goodness, that expression makes me shudder. But these short stays are barely a brassiere, so I cannot see the fuss compared to a waist cinch.

Day-wear gowns, with long sleeves, high necklines, and pale but tastefully printed or embroidered muslins and percales are tolerable, and do tend to a little lace at various locations, but a great deal more lace would add extra puff to the puffed short sleeve over the plain long sleeve, and maybe some more rows of wider lace about the skirt, and pearled bodice, and… I think you get the picture. But Regency is mostly simple, and particularly day dresses.

At least one has an opportunity to embellish in a state of full dress, which means a great deal less fabric covers one’s bosom, back, and arms. Clothes for a ballroom can be richly coloured and dramatic; typical trims include sheer overlays; larger, contrasting, prettier embroidery; pin-tucks, ruching, or quilling; and additional ribbons or fabric insets on the short, puffed sleeves.

“What about ruffles…?”

I just got the stink-eye from my niece. There had been a lecture before, just when the dessert tray was at the next table: we do not do the over-embellished dresses of the late Regency.

But that’s not right. By 1820, even a few years before, dresses had BIG sleeves and BIG frills and BIG bows and BIG fabric roses and BIG rows of fur trim, and ladies wore BIG hats with BIG stacks of BIG feathers, I remind her.

No reply.

Darn. She’s mad. We know Austen didn’t make it until the end of the Regency (1775-1817), and she’s what counts.

So lace… The only large piece of lace is a tucker for the afternoon, since these necklines plunge so low your beau will have no surprises, especially combined with the extreme push-up of the corset. I sulk.

Shoes! I perk up—there is a place one could enjoy drama! But no, the Regency footwear is simple, and not a great deal different than the ballet flats the young ladies wear these days. Ah, the historical photos come out… I admire the pointy-toed ones with bright colours and embroidery, but Miss Published Author says those were going out of style. Really? In favour of plain flats? Oh, I’m corrected! They are often coloured and decorated, but always have a low heel. A kitten heel up to one inch high is acceptable, but no higher, and it must be a flared kitten heel.

A one inch flared kitten heel? I have a pair! They’re mules, about eight years old. What? Shoes about eight years old are close to Regency styles, and they’re cheap in thrift shops, if not already in the back of your closet. Out comes the can of Lysol.

When she begins to speak of the length of the toe box on the Regency shoe, I pronounce her too knowledgeable.

Ah, the web pages come out to back her up. Metropolitan Museum, Victoria and Albert, McCord Museum, Kyoto Museum: all feature photos of actual Regency clothing, as opposed to supposed reproductions made by individuals or movie costume designers, or grandiose wish-list versions from fashion magazines by Ackermann and friends.

Suzan states, “These are real examples of what was worn in the Regency. Notice the diamond design of the back of the bodice, and how the skirt is gathered there, but is flat in front.”

Hmmmm. Interesting, and perhaps I can concede my draperies are less comparable after all.

We review gowns, reticules (a small drawstring purse), chemises (like a slip), elbow-length kid gloves, thigh-high stockings, and shoes, many with detailed embroidery—even some corsets had a simple white-on white embellishment. Why does no one embroider these days? Numerous handkerchiefs, tea towels, table cloths, pillow cases—that is what my niece and I learned as children. Perhaps I could take it up again…

What? Crotchless pantaloons! No panties? Next, please!

Oh, the bling! The floral themes in multi-coloured jewels, similar to inexpensive costume jewelry in budget fashion shops right now! Astrological signs? Snake rings? I give her a look. She’s not backing down, and appears to believe this hogwash. I suppose Elizabeth Bennet has a tattoo of “Fitz N Liz 4-Ever” in a blood-red heart as well! Please.

The museums have fans and parasols, too, each one striking in the attention to detail necessary to render it so beautiful it creates awe and covetous tendencies for two centuries and more. Besides the real, preserved museum examples, Suze has collected pages of paintings from the period as well.

“I’d love to try on that one,” she says.

I find myself quite involved by now, and it’s clear she wants to dress up. Do we ever get much past childhood? Aunties are best at this game, so my job description for the next while is clear. “Surely we can find items in your closet that would work! “

My niece laughs. A move into a condo from a large house meant that anything not used recently was given away. The silly girl had no gowns, no ribbons or remnants to speak of! She defended herself: in spite of it, she had gathered a few useful items to start a Regency costume.

Not to be held back, I insisted on examining the collection and inserting my own superior ideas. Do you have any silk dinner napkins or scarves? Jeweled brooches or hair barrettes? Silk flowers or leaves to trim the hat? Large clip-on earrings to act like shoe roses? Gem-type costume jewelry? She had completely forgotten she owned short white cotton gloves for hand care.

We created the Regency that day.MP newsletter saved to under 1Mb

Not a perfect outfit, and certainly not one she’d wear to any Jane Austen event, but enough to add confidence to her longing to dress as if it were another time.

• An empire-waist short silk dress with raglan puffed sleeves, a panel of a 90’s window topper pinned on for the skirt (I did not admit my former comparisons to her, but I did have my own inward laugh), and a short length of satin gift wrap ribbon tied below the bodice (the matching gift bow went on the hat),
• A push-up bra, a full slip tied at the waist to create a longer slip,
• A small purse,
• A roll-up type picture brim hat with an oblong silk scarf turbaned over the opening (I admit it looks more beach than farmer), a little “Birks” ribbon to tie it on, and a gift bow for trim,
• Great-grandma’s tatted doily as a cap under the hat,
• Large faux-emerald and pearl earrings, purple bead bracelet, red-jeweled bronze choker.
• White knee-high stockings,
• Lime green ballet flats,
• Lime green umbrella,
• For silliness, an electric fan!

Suze was pleased. A small amount of money would suffice to purchase more appropriate items, but far less altogether than one custom-made dress by an expert seamstress. She would search for a small, fancy, drawstring purse for a reticule; a better-shaped hat; a Chinatown fan; shoes without the non-Regency holes pattern in them, and decent, longer ribbons and lace!

“Yes, dear, and you sew well, so you can make your own gown.”

“No, I plan to buy a gown and adjust it to suit. Besides, at all the JASNA events, you see photos of 15 women in gowns from the same pattern. I want something unique,” she said. “You know, others who don’t sew at all might be interested in what I’m doing here, and people with a lot less money than I have could afford an outfit, too. Hey, I have an idea!”

cropped to see hat back under 1MbThe idea, which I think is utterly corny, to make a unique costume comprised of cost-free and budget items, will be called The Thrift Shop Regency Costume Experiment. She plans to use found items at home, thrift and vintage store purchases, and sale products. Only incidentals can be purchased at regular price. Incidentals? Double-sided tape, safety pins.

She continues to plan aloud, and I listen. There’s a goal for full authenticity in appearance, but compromises will have to be made, such as the lack of true kid shoes, and the reality that no one will see the flat plastic bottom of the fully synthetic shoe because the top looks right. In other areas, she hopes she can purchase materials to design projects that are virtually-sewing-free. No hot glue guns, either, since she’s afraid of burns!

Suze is confident she can find items to stand in for most everything, but worries about a rare and prized item: a proper Regency pagoda Parasol.

“Not a Battenburg?”

“No, too Victorian. Rare and minimal lace applies to the parasol just as well as the gown of the Regency.”

“Booooo.”

“Either fine fringe all around, or tassels on the point of each rib serve as the embellishment.” And Suzan adores them.

“Okaaaaay… did I mention Victorian was more… interesting?”

“They aren’t plain! Just as for evening gowns, shoes, stockings, and reticules, they can be almost any colour except black or gray, reserved for mourning.”

“No frou-frou, just loud. I’m glad it works for you.” My smirk and eyeroll weren’t all that well hidden, and she gave me the sneery head shake in return.

She’s checked this one extensively. Inexpensive pagoda Parasols from wedding stores have the wrong design (too many ribs, black piping on the outside of ribs, and a curved handle) and most colours are garish. Used older ones from the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s have Bakelite handles (hard plastic that can crack with age), and even if their fabric pattern is more staid than some of the psychedelics, they can be $300, even in poor shape.

umbrella and rear cropped under 1MbBut Suzan’s adamant about this specific article. I discover parasols are tied into a comedic scene in her recently completed Austen-inspired novel, Letter from Ramsgate, as well as a cherished recollection of the bond formed over a joke with an AHA cold reader for Suzan’s Meryton Press published novel, Alias Thomas Bennet. The line is: “Parasols in a ballroom? But of course!” Try to find it in the book. I couldn’t.

I, myself, will be off to the side of the room with my hand over my eyes in mortification. Why? She should have picked Victorian. You, however, will be treated to glimpses of the project from time-to-time in her blog, road trips with the redhead, on Meryton Press’s web site. Maybe you’ll be ready for Bath in March, or Louisville in June!

Tsk. You are correct. There is no doubt I will peek. Aclothes laid out and cropped under 1Mbt least when she discusses shoes. Or bling.

 

December 4, 2014: The Cost of a Pedicab for a Chat Chit in San Diego

She was standing on the doorstep waiting for me by the time I was halfway down the front walk. Gail Warner is not the type to wait for the doorbell and answer as if your arrival is a surprise when she’s eager to meet the last of her authors in person (me!). I’d seen photos of her, and that smile says it all. She’s warm, intelligent, and has a fantastic sense of humour. I think of her as “my Gail,” and the other authors she’s edited for feel likewise.

 photo 20140917_091851_zps36e47336.jpg

The day was as warm as Gail, perfect for the drive along the ocean from Orange County to San Diego that morning. We chatted like old friends, which I suppose in a way we were, after the close nature of our work on Alias Thomas Bennet gave us a bond like no other. Gail is keen to get her hands on my current work, Letter from Ramsgate, and I hope she’s pleasantly surprised by how much my writing and editing have improved from the rough work she helped me refine last spring. Of course, I learned from the best!

I could have stayed and talked all day, but I’d planned to meet the instigator of the AHA San Diego Meet-Up at the airport. I tease her by calling her “Birdie,” but defiantfalcon is her A Happy Assembly (AHA) username, and it suits. I knew she was small, but it was still a surprise because she’s so decisive and assertive. She walked up to the hotel desk and greeted them with all the polite manners of a southern lady before she stated her needs as if she would brook no opposition.

She’s been my rock over the last few years, excellent support when I was ill, and as the plot beta (similar to a developmental editor) for Letter from Ramsgate. When she told me a plot twist was an unnecessary distraction that added nothing to the story’s flow, I cut the chapter. Next, my clever scene for reunification of Darcy and Elizabeth had too many contrivances, and I had to think of a new scenario. The sweet and funny epilogue was too much of a change from the tone of the story. I didn’t realize it until defiantfalcon pointed it out.

We went for lunch and talked away, again like old friends. Job, family, pets. The day was heating up, but she’s a southern gal and used to it, and there was a nice breeze. We were both tired, and separated to rest up for the “main event.”

The AHA San Diego Meet-Up was set for a seafood restaurant on the Embarcadero, with views to the bay. Gail joked that when she arrived, she realized she knew one person, and didn’t know if I was there yet. I walked from Little Italy and thought I couldn’t find the restaurant. I was just texting defiantfalcon when I passed the USS Midway and there it was! We had a chatty seafood meal, discussing all kinds of Austen topics: the cool details in the books, the stories on AHA, the dynamics of the members, and the men! We all knew each other from AHA Chat, but to chat in person, and laugh together, was a wonderful extension of our relationships.

Afterward, we checked out the statue “The Kiss” or “Unconditional Surrender,” and the bronze installation to Bob Hope. As much as we enjoyed each other’s “real” company, it was time to head back to our hotels. When we had arrived, the place was alive with cabs, yet now a pair of pedicabs were parked near the door. After a short wait, we ambled out to the street, stopping to admire the bronze plaques that honoured past leaders of the US Navy. Pedicab after pedicab went by, but nothing else. Since three were headed one way, and my hotel was in the opposite direction, they encouraged me to take one. I thought it would be fun, but the driver was in a horrible mood.

And worse yet, I made the mistake travelers around the world make: I failed to agree on a fare ahead of time. He demanded double what I had expected based on cab rides in the city earlier! I argued for a few minutes, but it was hopeless. Much like Elizabeth in the scene in my July blog post, it was all the cash I had, but Mr. Suze wasn’t a surprise.

The next day, several of us enjoyed the San Diego Zoo’s Wildlife Safari, a large park full of African and Asian animals. I’m not well, and the day before had used up all my energy resources. DH suggested I stay back and rest, but I protested: I wanted to see the four baby lions. We were in luck! When we inquired as we paid our admission, we found they had been out where the public could see them for the first time yesterday, and maybe would be again today, at 9am. As an unadvertised item, there were few people there. Mama paced, agitated about the safety of her young, and the little ones rolled around and played lazily.

lionsWe sat back and relaxed as defiantfalcon clicked away. Her hobby is zoo photography, and she’s good: her home zoo uses some of her work for their promotional material. When she had her fill at that exhibit, we took a tram around the park to discover that many of the other animals had new babies, too: giraffes, elephants, hippos, to name a few. The facility exists to breed and protect species, and it has one rhino who will be the last of his kind. It was fun to watch the baby elephants at play. One pushed its sibling into the pond, and the wet elephant made the best of it and had a bath.

I saw the highlights before I ran out of steam, and we left the others mid-afternoon. In spite of drinking about 2 litres of water with salts, as I got to the car, I was lightheaded and had to sit. The car thermometer said it was 112oF (44oC)! However, as we descended to the city, it cooled nicely. Later, when the others were driving back, a heavy rain obscured the highway and caused flash floods.

brunch 3 resizedThe next morning, the group was joined by josurinu for breakfast, who had driven from LA early that morning. A few years ago, josurinu, defiantfalcon, and I worked together on her two Austen-inspired modern romances, Someone Like You and spin-off Someone Like Me, my first experience as a story beta (line edit), and we call each other Team SLY. She would join Lalita and defiantfalcon to the San Diego Zoo and Sea World, where the latter two had booked a swim with the dolphins. But DH and I had seen many of the tourist attractions on a previous visit to San Diego, so we were on the road again. Besides, I had run out of copies of Alias Thomas Bennet to sign and give away!

We took three days to drive home, as expected. Friends recommended Highway 99 in California instead of the I-5, and it was a great choice: less traffic, more scenic. We uncovered the identity of the mystery trees along the road—walnuts—which I don’t recommend eating green. We lamented the fact that the Shasta Lakes were almost dry: easily 20 feet low. We revisited Cottage Grove, OR and discovered a thriving old town main street with a great used book store and coffee shop in an old theatre, where I bought a reticule. (If you’ve never been to that area of Oregon, it’s worth the trip to see the dozens of covered wood bridges.) The next day, I found the funkiest vintage story ever in Portland, OR, with 50’s cowgirl dresses among the other classic selections.

But in order to close this tale, I must back up.

Our last stop in California was to return to a location we had found on the way down, in Red Bluff. I may have mentioned once or twice that DH and I have a bit of a ritual in our U.S. travels. So it’s fitting that we end this story of the AHA San Diego Meet-Up with that fine aspect of American culture: PIE.

piePhotos by dogpoundphoto and Chaotic Her

November 21, 2014: A Straight Line to the Real Orange County Book Club is a Zed

My mother-in-law’s name is Julia, and we named our very bossy GPS after her nickname in her language: Yulka. Most of the time, Yulka comes in handy. We have to trick her every once in a while when we want to take the lesser-traveled road—what Yulka doesn’t know won’t hurt her. Mind you, we made sure she knew as much as possible with a download before this trip. But she’s a spiteful little dictator, and knows we can be like sheep sometimes.

When we left LA for Orange County to meet AHA pal Josie for the first time, and then spend the weekend with my longtime dear friend Kelly, we depended on Yulka to send us the right way through unfamiliar freeways. Within the city, she sent us past directional signs for our freeway, I5 south. After a couple of these, we ignored her and voilà , we were on our way.

Now, the map provided by the State of California is pretty minimal in information: it has no exit numbers, and not all the towns. But it didn’t matter much to us, since we had Yulka, and knew we should be headed down I5 for quite a while.

But dear Yulka decided we should head east instead of on I5 south. After a check of the map, DH and I were discussing whether to ignore her, when she instructed us to head southwest, so we relaxed and followed. However, a while later, she told us to continue past the exit to I5 and continue southwest! I pored over the map once more. It was so odd, she hadn’t mentioned any problems to avoid on I5, as she had when we’d detoured other times. I said a few choice words about Yulka, and we decided to ignore her and turned west towards the I5. When I later drew it on the map, our route was a Zed!LA to Orange with Zed auto resizedAfter that, she found Josie’s home without further annoyance (mild mistrust still remained!). As we approached, we admired Josie’s garden, which is watered with grey water from her home. Inside were lots of musical instruments, which was no surprise, as she plays in a band!

After a short visit, DH asked a favour: could she help him find a tire shop? We had a slow leak, and the company that had installed new tires two weeks prior wasn’t represented in California. While the car was in the shop, we had a great El Salvadorian lunch at a little place Josie chose; everything was fresh and yummy. We don’t have one in my current city, and I miss it from my younger years, and got extra curtido! It turns out a drywall nail was our slow leak, and it was an easy repair.

On to the next stop, and a short rest before more fun. Kelly and Mr. D. were in my engineering class in Canada, and I helped them get together. They’re both full time professionals in different automotive design areas, and dedicated hockey parents for their three boys, with three games every Saturday, plus practices and tournaments.

signing photoKelly breezed in from a game to collect me and whisk me off to “Meet the Author” with “The Real Orange County Book Club,” the play on words she and her friends made from the popular TV show. Upon hearing of my visit, they decided their September read would be my first novel, Alias Thomas Bennet. Unlike the TV show, these are “regular” ladies, who have cleaned a bathroom or two in their lives, and the hour was casual and relaxed. The toughest feedback was from a reader who found the Austenesque language difficult at first, but as she got into it, she loved it.

The day didn’t end there. Another Canadian ex-pat couple of engineers, who had been relocated to southern California by her employer a few weeks earlier, took a pause in unpacking to have dinner with us. When they arrived a few minutes later than the rest of us, Kelly commented we had rushed there, too. Donna was attentive, and with an easy smile, she asked where we had been.

Kelly replied with her own smile and a head tilt, “At meet the author.”

***An aside: if asked, none of us would consider ourselves literary at all, we’re engineers. In addition, Kelly, arguably the smartest, can appear naïve because of the innocent way she asks questions, so we tease her that she’s not very bright, and she laughs with us! The book club is great for her to spend time with other women… and she’s more literary than she thinks!***

Donna’s face lit up. “Oh, nice! Who was the author?”

Kelly gestured towards me.

Donna glanced at me, and then back to Kelly. She didn’t get it, and her face was less animated than at first, as though she assumed we had a personal joke we refused to to share. She smiled and asked again.

Kelly said, “Suze.”

Donna looked at me with wild eyes.

You’re the author?” Her head whipped back to Kelly.

“Yes,” Kelly said.

Her face showed her confusion. She’s logical. This was out of her experience. “You wrote a book?”

I nodded. Kelly and I were sharing the biggest grins.

“Really? A whole book?”

I replied, “Yes, and Kelly read it!”

Everyone laughed, and chided Donna that, because she’s not on Facebook, she misses everything. Oh, well, I gave her a signed copy!

San Clemente beachOn Sunday, we had a nice brunch of galettes (Belgian crêpes) in San Clemente, and then just hung around at home with the family.

The next morning, the family was off to school and work, and we were off to San Diego, our ultimate destination. The washroom we had shared with the boys had been pristine for two days; all of us took care to wipe our messes. I didn’t hear Kelly give the instructions, but I suspected, and Monday morning, I found out what nice boys do when they have guests, because I could hardly see myself in splatters on the mirror!

Next post:  The San Diego Meet-up, where I meet my beloved Gail Warner, editor for Alias Thomas Bennet, a little birdie with a huge camera, and fellow research associates of “The Meryton Literary Society.”

Okay, I admit, that last bit was me trying to make it sound intellectual. In reality, they’re my dear friends from the AHA Chat Chits, and they’re up to no good!

The big trip: a year of learning about publishing

Today is my last full day of a nice relaxing trip to Baja California Sur in Mexico. We come to this wonderful country nearly every winter, to different locations. I sprained a toe about a week before we came here, and after trying to do my “normal” tourism of exploring the town on foot, I wound up at a clinic being told by a Mexican doctor to rest the foot for a week. Since then, I’ve spent most of my time reading and writing by the pool at our little Mexican hotel.

It could be worse, I suppose! I was still able to hobble to the central mercado and enjoy home-made sweet potato empanadas; go on an eco-sensitive whale-watching tour and see nine humpbacks, including a calf; listen to mariachi one lunchtime and the sound of the surf the next; and window-shop amazing galleries.

Interestingly, my husband chose this holiday as the time to re-read Alias Thomas Bennet. He first read it nearly a year ago to help me catch any glaring errors before I sent it off to Meryton Press. He tells me he’s noticed some changes, subtle bits that landed on the cutting room floor; however, he’s finding it even better this time, mostly because the mystery’s out. Interesting. When Gail (my editor) heard he said that, she wondered if he was disappointed. Nope. He keeps complimenting me.

So how did ATB and I get here in a year? A dear friend and fellow author, C. Rafe Carlson, asked me a question when I said ATB was too long for publishing: “Is the the only reason?” I had to admit I was a little nervous about bad reviews, but yes, the main reason was the story was a bit long for a published novel, and I had tried to pare it down but was at a loss. Rafe encouraged me to submit it anyways. So I then approached Karen M. Cox and asked a few questions about her experience with MP. All good. And all that led up to the email I sent a year and two days ago: the original submission.

Interesting, because my research had told me that the publishing process would take at least a year. Yet here I am a year later and the book has been selling well for over two months. The blog tour I just finished gave reviews of 4/5/4/5 for the book and 4.5 for the cover. My sister tells me she stayed up until 5am reading my novel, and thinks it’s better than the original. Well, not all of us love Austen so well as our sisters, I guess.

What a trip it’s been! I’ve met so many nice people: the international contingent of bloggers from the recent tour, the cluster of associates at Meryton Press, other authors both in this genre and others, a serial tweeter who has become my best marketer, reviewers who I always admired but never thought I’d know as friends, and new friends who have long been fans of the story. It’s like another world I never knew existed, and it’s all because I decided my little homage to Jane Austen was better shared beyond my family at A Happy Assembly.

I’d love to hear your experience with my book, or the story that led you to try it in spite of it clearly being different than most Jane Austen inspired fiction.

Please consider commenting, or contacting me at my Meryton Assembly AHA profile page (member name redhead) or my Facebook author page (links at the top of this page).

My husband had trouble signing up for the email blog posts and I wonder if he’s the only one. If you’ve had that problem, could you let me know? Thank you!

January 4, 2014: Eight Blogs in Nine Days, January 7-15!

As much as Jakki Leatherberry of Leatherbound Reviews would look great in the passenger seat, this is a trip that’s a bit too intense for the little car. Time to pull out the passport and the big suitcase (parka for the north, sunscreen for the south) because we’re heading to all kinds of interesting places. It’s the Leatherbound Reviews Alias Thomas Bennet Blog Tour, January 7-15, 2014!

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Did you wonder about that boat on the cover of Alias Thomas Bennet? Follow me across the sea to Italy (that could be a children’s song!) where I’ll blog about Thomas and Fanny Bennet’s boat trip on My Jane Austen Book Club on January 7 (which also happens to be Christmas Day in my family!).

From there, we’ll fly back to sneak some peeks at my book with an excerpt at eclectic blog Everything Books and Authors on January 8: more about that boat you see on the cover! We’re on the move from here, because on January 11 My Love for Jane Austen will feature a short clip with insight into some threats to the comfortable life Thomas Bennet has built for himself and his family, and on January 15 Elizabeth will find herself in a very precarious situation on Addicted to Jane Austen. But I’m known as the secret-keeper, so these are still going to be “teaser” posts, and you’re still going to have to read the book to find out everything!

I’m down for some cool quizzing with an author interview on Songs and Stories on January 10 following a review on January 9, then my friend and fellow AHA Chat Chit Rose Fairbanks will also interview me on her blog, The Darcy Obsession, on January 12.

Finally, join me in perusing reviews of my book, Alias Thomas Bennet, written by mega-reader Anna at Diary of an Eccentric, and Spanish language blog Warmisunqu’s Austen, on January 14 and 15 respectively. I know Warmisunqu is a great fan of Janet Taylor’s cover for ATB, and I hope she finds the book equally satisfying.

It’s going to be quite the trip. You’ll be surprised as the excerpts drive the story forward with glimpses into the dramatic tension in various sections of the book, and I think I’ll be equally surprised to react to the interviews and reviews. There will be plenty of chances for you to comment on each blog, as well as give-aways for those who love to win stuff. See you at the luggage carousel!

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Alias Thomas Bennet is available at Amazon or Barnes and Noble.