December 22, 2014: New story excerpt at A Happy Assembly: “Letter from Ramsgate!”

Interrobang! A livid Darcy scowls, then storms out of the Parsonage at Hunsford, just after he and Elizabeth have declared their mutual love?! Attractive widow Isabel Younge plans to mould Georgiana Darcy into an interesting young lady like herself, so she can tag along to all the balls and catch a rich man herself?!

It’s all in Chapter One of “Letter From Ramsgate,” now posted in the Coming Attractions forum at A Happy Assembly. The 22-chapter story is completely written, with the final chapters in editing with fantastic beta readers.

The site contains mature material, and though “Letter from Ramsgate” is teen-rated, registration is required. But not to worry; personal information is personal. I’m “redhead!” Drop a comment!

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#LfR #Parasolinaballroom #MondayBlogs

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.

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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 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:

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

July 13, 2014: My Obsession with the Cost of a Hack

I go a little crazy when I’m researching for a story. A little detail that might be three words can have a week of research behind it. Case in point: the cost of a hack from the mail coach terminus in London to Mayfair.

In my current story, I wrote a scene where Elizabeth traveled to London, and then to a friend’s house in Mayfair. During my research, I found out about the cost of mail coach trip, tips, meals, and extra weight charges for baggage. Oh! That last bit caught my writer’s interest!

The last time I traveled by air, I weighed my bag at home and removed a bunch of stuff to meet the maximum baggage weight. Of course, when I got to my destination, it was all the wrong stuff! But I managed to get away without any extra fee.

But not so lucky for my heroine: I decided to include an overweight charge for Elizabeth!

Not only that, but before she left Longbourn, she knew exactly how much her trip would cost, and had brought nothing extra. Knowing she’d be short for the hackney coach trip through London, she asked the hack driver to drop her part-way to her friend’s house. Of course, a certain someone just happens to be riding by in his carriage as she’s struggling to walk with her heavy bag, and rescues her!

It was fun trying to figure out the route of the mail coach and the location for Elizabeth to catch the hack. (Not “cab”—that name came about from “cabriolet,” in 1823.) I had to figure out Hertfordshire and Middlesex geography and find maps of old London. Of course, there was a huge gap in detail at the point of my interest! The most useful map (in terms of ease of reading and finding major locations) was Dickens’ London, from David Perdue’s Charles Dickens Page.

Other interesting pages emerged, including a book of anecdotes called The Interesting Adventures of a Hackney Coach, from 1813. It has the strangest punctuation I’ve ever seen.

But I was obsessed with making sure the extra “tanner” for the overweight bag would make a difference in the end. How much was the fare from Smithfield to Portman Square in 1813?

Hack fares

Great finds were on Wallis’s Plan of the Cities of London and Westminster (above), and tables in actual travel guides from 1786 and 1827—but I had to try to figure out the end points and probable routes, since fares tended to be listed from coaching inns and pubs, and not street addresses. Finally, I made an educated guess at 3 pence.

I have hundreds of bookmarked pages for story research, and this time, I added another dozen. Here are my favourite web sites for Regency research:

Jane Austen’s World
There are several useful tabs, but I like “Social Customs during the Regency Era.” There many interesting categories here. Sadly, there are some dead links.

Common Regency Errors by Alison Lane
This is a great resource to help to understand how to apply titles of the nobility, as well as a few other topics such as adoption and consanguinity.

The Online Etymology Dictionary
You can look up any word and find out when it was first recorded, under various definitions. It’s sometimes surprising which words are super-old and which are recent, or how a word changed its meaning after the Regency period, so the way we use it today didn’t apply back then.

Chapman’s Chronology of Pride and Prejudice
R. W. Chapman was a scholar who dedicated his life to Austen’s works. In 1923 he produced an edition of her books that was much more readable by today’s readers, and a companion book as well. In the process he created time lines for the novels. In writing a variation, it’s nice to know how your changes fit into the original.

Author confession: I was diverted from my purpose… which means a new redhead story on AHA!

With my current Austen-Inspired Regency Romance less than a chapter from being completed, why do I find myself scribbling down a short story that keeps sneaking additional ideas into itself, not to mention an original character? Authors will tell you this happens a lot. It seems like you’re in control, but you’re really not. The characters win, every time.

It’s good news for the readers, though! I’ve posted my short story, Storm About His Love, on AHA. Check it out!

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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!

ATB Blog Tour Banner

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.