Book Club Questions for “Alias Thomas Bennet”

Who would expect heavy rains to be so welcome? After the recent extended drought in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, my home-away-from home again this weekend, it makes sense. My Chat Chit friends’ gardens will green up! Of course, I attribute it to the engineer friend who passed away this week: he’s up there above us, and repaired the systems!

The last time I was here, I was part of a “Meet the Author” event with “The Real Orange County Book Club.” I enjoyed meeting another of their members yesterday. Her enthusiasm about my book and writing inspired me to share the Book Club Questions I wrote for their use when my novel, Alias Thomas Bennet, was their monthly read for September 2014.

Alias Thomas Bennet 1263 x 900Alias Thomas Bennet by Suzan Lauder
Book Club Questions

1. Alias Thomas Bennet is inspired by Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and follows its general plot line, which in Fan Fiction is referred to as “canon.” Discuss the differences between “canon” and Alias Thomas Bennet. Do you agree with how the changes have been made? What could be done differently?

2. Outside of this book, Fan Fiction encompasses almost every area of storytelling in our culture: from The X Files to Mulan, Little Women to Wolverine, the online community of re-writes is immense. Discuss your familiarity and reactions to the idea of Fan Fiction. What other examples of Fan Fiction are you aware of? (Hint: famous trilogy based on Twilight!)

3. Maria Lucas is a minor character in the original Pride and Prejudice. What do you think of her role in Alias Thomas Bennet? Discuss her motivation and the societal aspects that compelled her.

4. A mature scene told from Darcy’s point of view has been controversial with readers. How would this differ if it was presented by an omniscient narrator as in most mature novels? Do you think it would be different if it was not a fantasy, but a sex scene? What is your reaction to the concept that Darcy ultimately decided to propose because of his desire? Do you think there might be some element of that in Pride and Prejudice?

5. The story begins with a series of flashbacks. Talk about your reaction to the exposure of information in the flashbacks, your understanding of them, and your suspicions as they evolved with the information in each vignette. Discuss how close your conjecture was to the exposé in chapter 8 and 9.

6. Wickham is a particularly evil villain in this adaptation. Some might criticise this as a ploy to victimize the heroine in order to add importance to the role of the hero. What is your view? What do you think about the outcome for him in this book? What do you think about Elizabeth’s reactions?

7. What is your impression of Fanny and Thomas Bennet/Lord Shelton? Do you think they are over-played, and the story should be more about Elizabeth and Darcy, as in Pride and Prejudice? Why?

8. In canon, Fanny Bennet is flighty and distractible. In Alias Thomas Bennet, it’s implied she suffers from PTSD. What do you think of this possibility? Why or why not is it a plausible explanation for her canon personality?

9. Discuss what life would have been like on a sailing ship for a month with small children, eating only hard tack (cracker-like bread) and gruel.

10. Some readers love the gown descriptions, and some hate them. What do you think?

11. Discuss what it might have felt like for Elizabeth and Jane to suddenly become the focus of society, when before, they were unknown. What do you think of this class structure issue? How does it compare with how people are judged today? What are the similarities and differences?

12. What did you like best about this novel? What would you change?


Please share any special thoughts that came up as you read this list, as I love feedback, and other readers would love to hear about it as well!

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!

November 2, 2014: Bingley and Darcy walked into a bar… La La Land

Sometimes you’ve been down that road before. In the case of Monterey to San Luis Obispo, that was the case, so we’d seen some of the main tourist sights down the road, but had missed the 17-mile Drive, so that was the start to this leg of the trip to San Diego: Monterey to Los Angeles. I’m not sure why the 17-mile Drive is supposed to be so important. Perhaps I have too many similar roads near where I live. They don’t cost $10, either.

The next new and exciting stop for us was Santa Barbara. We took the route through the mountains, and the view of the city as we descended could only have been better at night. It was beautiful. We didn’t stay long because we were off to Oxnard for dinner with JAFF author and close friend josurinu.jos

It was a highlight of my day to finally meet her. She and I had both assisted each other in writing when we were new and fresh at AHA, and learned a lot together. She was more beautiful than in photos, and had grown sophisticated from her job, though DH caught a couple of her classic double entendres! Oxnard is kind of a signal of spring in Canada: that’s where the first strawberries of the season come from, a good month before the local ones.

The next morning, we wandered around Santa Barbara for a while, taking in Stearns Wharf and the Mission, then drove towards Los Angeles via Malibu Drive.

We live near the water, and a new building was built in front of us recently, blocking half our view—if you don’t own the view, someone else will build in front of you eventually. So the homes on stilts along Malibu Drive appealed to me! It was one of the parts of the trip where we had the roof down, so we could enjoy houses perched above us as well.

(The weather was so warm on this trip, we actually had the roof up and air conditioning on quite a few times!)

We arrived at the LA home of LalitaD for a late lunch. I wasn’t in the door two minutes, and she put me to work puffing up the roti for lunch. It was so fun! We told her our plans: bus tour for highlights, the Observatory, Getty museum, Chinese theatre, Venice beach.roti

She said no bus tour. What?

All of a sudden, we were whisked along behind probably the most proud Angeleno that exists for a two-day personal tour with some backstage entries! Lalita and Mr. D. love their city, and were keen to show it off.

First stop was photos with the “Hollywood” sign at the Griffith Observatory, then a tour and the show. I have to admit, I snoozed a bit. But I do that in movies sometimes, too.

Then we were off to see the next highlight. She knew where the best photos could be taken, where the best stars were, the best streets if you want to dally in traffic, and the fastest routes otherwise. We saw all we wanted, a bit more, but the sorts of things that interested us, and no stars homes, studios, or amusement parks were involved. Well, except that one of those game show girls lives on their street.

But here’s the problem. Lalita loves to drabble. It comes out every so often, but most of the time, she’s not as energetic as she was in the Getty.

I was looking at a cool painting, and a little voice whispered, “Bingley and Darcy walked into a bar…”

I laughed. Out loud. In the Getty. The J. Paul Getty Museum, one of the most important freakin’ art galleries in the world. I go redder than Elizabeth when Darcy casually touches her for the first time, and clap my hand over my mouth. She sniggers. Quietly.

A few minutes later, in the next gallery, she whispers again. I can’t hear, and she’s little, so I duck down. Same deal. Story continues. I laugh, then stop myself. She loves it.

Then the grand finale: “Most of all, Darcy would remember the straps, those red straps that wrapped around her ankles.” I cracked up. The docent scowled and took one step forward. I made sheepish eye contact, and he retreated. The little sneak just grinned to herself.

I deserved every bite of that gourmet oatmeal she made the next day. Every bite.

Plus, our last night, she took me here:

firth zoom

Next post: The Real Orange County Housewives, er, Book Club?

October 2, 2014: Zoooooomm to California for an Austen-themed road trip

In September 2011, my husband and I drove the Pacific Coast Highway (US 101) from Olympia, WA to San Luis Obispo, CA, including Hwy#1 north of San Francisco. If you ever get the chance, take this drive. One of the alternating photos in my banner above is Pacific City, OR, where we watched surfers and “sand-boarders”—they ski the dunes.

We wanted to continue the drive farther south one day, and when fellow AHA Chat Chit defiantfalcon—who is also my plot beta for my current work-in-progress, Letter from Ramsgate—said she planned to go to San Diego on vacation in September 2014, we started coordinating plans. The next person we contacted was SoCal resident josurinu, because the collaboration on her excellent AHA stories Someone Like You and sequel Someone Like Me cemented the friendship between the three of us. We call each other Team SLY.

This is the first in a series of posts that will follow my latest Austen-themed road trip, which ends with the Team SLY meet-up! It was a wonderful trip, with sunshine and friends all the way. Oh, and that thing Americans do best: PIE.

We started early for each of two long days on the I-5 to San Francisco, where we caught up with BP, my husband’s friend since they were boys in Winnipeg’s North End, and his wife, Susie Hara, whom I met the earlier trip. Both had careers as writers, though it was no longer their primary employment.

During the first trip, Susie asked what I did for a living, and as I mentioned my job, my husband interjected: “She also writes.” I was so embarrassed! At that time I told no one. It was therapy for my PTSD and an outlet to express my enjoyment of Austen—no more than a hobby.

I said, “I’m an amateur writer.”

Susie corrected me: “You’re a writer. There is no such thing as amateur. Be proud of your craft.” There was such firm finality in the way she said it, like gospel. In addition, we were headed uphill, and she was above me! But that simple change in attitude  enhanced my pride in my work.

Before I left, she gave me a copy of an anthology of erotic short stories, X: The Erotic Treasury (her main area of writing to date), and signed her story within it: “For Suzan—a new friend and writer.” The book binding is gorgeous and classic. Yet, she was working on a novel that deviated from that genre—a mystery.

So it was wonderful to see her again last month. We met her and BP at a restaurant they recommended in their ‘hood, the Mission District, which was fairly empty when we arrived. I gave Susie a signed copy of my book, and she blushed at the note that referred to her comment about not being amateur and how it changed my attitude.

But I was in for a surprise! Her mystery novel, Finder of Lost Objects, had been published in March! I was so happy for her! It has an average of 4.9 stars on Amazon and the premise is certainly unique.

The four of us chattered away intently on many topics, and we were almost done our meal when I noticed the restaurant was packed, and everyone else was Latino. I enjoyed my ensalada de nopales, pleased to find it offered outside of Mexico, but I had no idea this was a favored haunt for the locals. I liked that, a lot!

BP and Susie then took us for a walk, and it was with mixed feelings I saw many changes in the Mission. It’s cleaned up in a certain way, but the new stores have stolen some of its quaint charm. At this rate, it won’t be long before Forever 21 and its ilk move in, and papusas will disappear because the rents are no longer affordable.

jellyfish smallerWe said good-bye to SF and had a great day in Monterey, where we chilled at the kelp pool and were hypnotized by the jellyfish dance at the world-class aquarium. It’s the 6th largest in the world, and is rated the top aquarium in the world by TripAdvisor, number 4 in the world by The Weather Network, number 6 by Conservation Institute… pretty much every top ten list there is! The weekly farmer’s market is on the same street as our hotel, and we had enjoyed it for dinner in 2011 and again that evening.

Wake up early… we’re on to Santa Barbara, Oxnard, and LA in the next post!