Category Archives: My Jane Austen Summer

Jane Austen Reviews MY JANE AUSTEN SUMMER

 Published on Austen Authors, 11/22/11

My Jane Austen sits in the wicker chair in the corner of my office most days.  She amuses herself listening to my phone conversations, “Getting a lot of work done,” she observes.  Reading email over my shoulder, she comments, “I don’t see a conflict on your calendar next Tuesday,” and swiping books off my TBR pile.  ”People pay money for this?” she snarks, reading to the last page of Madame Bovary nonetheless.

I know she’s read my book, My Jane Austen Summer.  And she knows I know she’s read it.  Whenever the subject comes up she appears not to notice, either zoning out or becoming deeply engrossed in her shoes, as if she’s taken a vow of silence on the subject of my book.  She waited six months before bothering to offer her thoughts and all she said was, “I read your book.”  I waited for the other shoe to drop but she had no further comment.  I certainly wasn’t going to ask for feedback.  You know what they say, if you have to ask…  She obviously didn’t care for my book so I let it go.

But weeks later the subject came up on a day when one more hit couldn’t possibly matter.  I cast dignity and self-respect to the wind and asked for her feedback.  ”Well…what did you think?”

She considered a moment, opening and closing her fan, and then offered, “I loved the way you talked about her car starting.”

I turned my chair to face her.  “The first sentence of my book?”

“Yes, I loved the way you invoke the car going backwards from the very start.”

“Thanks.”  I waited for more.

“Oh, and there was something else I really loved.”  She looked at the ceiling.  ”What was it?”

“The emotional truth?” I asked.  “The bittersweet ending?”

“No.”

“The original premise?”

“No,” she shook her head.

“The language?”

“No.”  She snapped her fingers, remembering.  “The cover.  I loved the cover.”

“Um, thanks.”  I took a deep breath and straightened papers on my desk.

“But I had a question for you.  And now I’ve forgotten.  Hmm.”  She scratched her head.

I prompted her, “Why did I decide to write a story about a young woman who wants to live in a novel?”

“No,” she shook her head.

“Where did I get the idea for a Jane Austen Literary Festival?”

“No, it wasn’t that.”  She pointed a finger in the air.  “Oh!  I remember what it was.”

“What?”

“I wanted to know how you found your agent.”

I raised an eyebrow in her direction.  “I met her at a writers’ conference.  Why do you ask?”

She assumed an innocent expression.  “I was just curious.”  And then, “Do you think she’s looking for new writers?”

“I don’t know.  Would you like me to say you asked?”

“Oh no, I was just wondering.  For a friend.”

“Right.”

“But you know,” she said, “this has really made me think.”  Her eyes narrowed as if she might actually say something positive and complex about my work.

“Yes?” I said, hoping she’d elaborate.  “My work made you think?”

“About The Help.  You know that book by…”

“Kathryn Stockett.

“Yes!  That one.  Did you not see parallels between The Help and Pride and Prejudice?

“No,” I said, scooting back my chair, preparing to leave the room and the interview.  “I did not see a single parallel between The Help and your book.”

“What about The Help and Emma?”

“None.  Zero.  Zip.  I’m leaving now.”

THE END

Other reviewers have said nice things:  Marie Claire said, Austenish charm dances through each chapter, The Chicago Tribune called the book literary solace, Romantic Times called it a fun, charming read, and the Deseret News called it a literary feast for Austen fans.  Follow Cindy Jones:

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JASNA AGM: Insider Report (with a Secret)

This blog was posted on Austen Authors on September, 24, 2011

AGM Steering Committee Meets in Ft. Worth

This time last year, the AGM Steering Committee was relaxing over tea and scones in our fearless leader’s living room, frowning at budget items and relishing the prospect of sharing Texas with the Jane Austen Society of North America.  This year finds that same group seated around an enormous conference table at The Worthington Hotel in Ft. Worth, talking through the entire five-day conference, visualizing the event in our heads so that we can anticipate every possible problem and generate solutions now.   Last year we talked about programs, prizes, and font size.  This year we’re focused on extension cords, power strips, and duct tape.  Sample Problem:  Where will we store the fresh English ivy to be used in table decorations on Sunday morning?  The AGM Coordinator flew in from Milwaukee to assist, experts on audio/visual and other technical issues weighed in, and a hotel representative testified precisely on tables and room sizes.  It felt more like a Senate Hearing than a gathering of Janeites.

The little speck against the far wall is me

The room where the Author Book Signing will occur is vast–just about right for a Texas-sized Literary Event, and we can’t wait to fill it with authors, tables, chairs, and and every sort of Jane Austen-related book.  All visitors will receive a map, and lots of volunteer helpers will be present to to make sure no one gets lost during the event.  I’m standing at the other end of the room in the picture at the right, but the distance is so great, I’m unrecognizable.  The Author Book Signing will feature familiar Austen Authors:  Abigail Reynolds, Sharon Lathan, C. Allyn Pierson, Mary Simonsen, Karen Doornebos, Diana Birchall, and Cindy Jones.  Also present will be editor Laurel Ann Nattress and many of the authors contributing to her brand new anthology, Jane Austen Made Me Do It, including Syrie James, Beth Pattillo, Pam Aidan, Margaret Sullivan, Janet Mullany, and Carrie Bebris.  For more information about the event and a complete listing of participating authors, check the website.

For more information about The Jane AustenSociety of North America (JASNA), and to find a chapter near you, check this website.

Secrets were revealed during our meeting!  I learned several amazing things and I’ll share one now:  Guess who’s coming to the AGM?  The BBC film crew!  The British Broadcasting Corporation will be filming interviews with AGM attendees during the conference for use in a documentary about You Know Who.  But that’s not the only secret that was revealed at our meeting.  Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing updates on Austen Authors’ Facebook Page, and during the course of that time, I’ll reveal two more secrets!

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Five Sideways Sources for Writing Instruction

This post recently appeared on Girlfriends Book Club 

Since I don’t have an MFA, my learning curve offers a unique perspective on the subject of writing instruction, including less conventional resources that may not get coverage elsewhere. Here are five sources for important lessons I didn’t learn in a formal program:
  1. Gossip: Understanding how individuals operate under pressure is a prerequisite for creating empathetic characters and a grasp of the complex world of human psychology is expected from the get-go. Fortunately, my grandmother, a professional counselor, shared her expertise with me–her oddly attentive granddaughter–from an early age. We lingered at the table long after meals, solving the the problems of in-laws and outlaws, leaving no unseen pressure under-analyzed. If you don’t have a professionally trained grandmother, an observant girlfriend will do. And if the term gossip bothers you, just call it material.
  2. Other Writers’ Work-in-Progress: The best way to learn about my own work was in a writer’s workshop while reading someone else’s unpublished manuscript. And the most important lesson I learned was to recognize filler: major obstacle to reaching the next level, notorious killer of newbie writers. Filler is not only a problem; it comes with deep denial that is difficult to penetrate. But here’s the good news: mistakes not visible in one’s own work are perfectly obvious in someones else’s. Once I recognized filler in another manuscript, I was able to transfer the skill to my own work and cut without regret.
  3. Critical Reviews: I don’t wast time on one-star reviews since they all seem to have been written by the same sour person, lamenting trees sacrificed, announcing a cure for insomnia, etc. But reviewers who write with less venom and greater discrimination can provide helpful insights from the perspective of the next level. Published novels have different flaws than amateur manuscripts and good reviewers taught me what those flaws look like. Again, recognizing flaws in published work allowed me to apply it to my own and cut, cut, cut.
  4. Famous Authors: Rather than waiting to attend conferences, hoping to glean writing technique from celebrity authors, I simply open celebrity authors’ books. This summer I was working on revisions, acting on my agent’s advice concerning the need to pull story threads forward into my first chapter, but I was afraid of creating speed bumps for readers, introducing too much back story in the early pages. Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I deconstructed the first chapter from Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder to see how she did it. Now, when I get stuck, I open a book or turn on my Kindle and read my way out of problems.
  5. Dave and Bob: My job is to figure out what I don’t know, learn it, and use it to improve my work. Problem is I don’t know what I don’t know. Imagine my delight when I discovered David Madden and Robert McKee who explained everything I needed to know about writing (but didn’t know to ask). I am truly embarrassed to admit that before reading David Madden’sRevising Fiction, I thought description was used to describe things. Madden provides a list of 185 questions a writer can apply to their work–and provides the answers. Robert McKee’s book, Story, is my other go-to resource for craft questions. I don’t leave town without one of those guys in my satchel.

I’m still trying to figure out what I don’t know and I would love for you to share any particularly illuminating sideways resources you may have encountered in your writing journey.

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Library Book Talk

If you are in Dallas and free this Wednesday, please join me and the Lochwood Library Friends for a discussion of My Jane Austen Summer and a cup of Lily Berry’s Pink Rose Tea.

Book Talk
Lochwood Branch Library, 11221 Lochwood Blvd.
Wednesday, September 14 at 1:30 pm
This event is free and open to the public.

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Jane Austen Appears in Tweed Jacket

Portrait made just after confronting her about Antigua

I met Jane Austen through my parents.  She occupied a top bookshelf between Aristotle and Balzac, wearing the same tan tweedy jacket all the Great Books wore.  From my teenager perspective, she seemed as accessible as a marble goddess in a museum.  Nonetheless, one acutely boring day while wondering WILL I EVER ESCAPE THIS SMALL TOWN, I found myself precariously bereft:  between books with nothing to read, and decades before the day of instant downloads.  Thus, the annoying choice:  either not read, or resort to my parents’ Great Books collection.  I pulled Sense & Sensibility off the shelf and spent several days out of town—in Jane Austen’s world.  I could have mustered greater enthusiasm if she’d included a Heathcliff in her pages, but she was a friend of my parents, after all.

I met Jane Austen again as a young adult, busy launching my entry-level self in the big city and wondering WILL I EVER FIND LOVE, which is to say, I was meeting my fill of characters and navigating rapid plot twists.  Home sick one day, I read Persuasion which led to Northanger Abbey and might have continued except I recovered, went back to work, and lost touch with Jane Austen.  Back then, I read without regard to author, subject, or literary orientation and, in the blur of young life before Facebook, relationships fell through the cracks.

And then I met my husband.

From that moment, I avoided plot twists.  No conflict, please.  The tension that makes fiction so compelling, doesn’t translate to real life, and as my life perspective changed, so did my literary perceptions.  We read Love in the Time of Cholera aloud on our honeymoon.  Heathcliff?  GAH.  What was I thinking?  Books that moved me in my youth no longer had the power.  I was aware of Jane Austen’s growing popularity—and Mr. Darcy’s wet shirt, who wasn’t?—but I was too busy changing diapers to get involved.

Twenty years passed before running into Jane Austen again.  We met by chance in the New York Times Book Review through our mutual friend, The Jane Austen Book Club.  By then, I had four sons and a novel-in-progress.  Jane Austen was an immortal supernova.  My reading program had narrowed to novels reflecting life’s complexity, often leading me to revisit classics, which led to reading all six Austen novels without interruption.  Jane Austen spoke to me from between the lines of her prose, a perfect blend of irony and optimism and we became best friends.  We agreed on many things, most importantly that bookish women should be the heroines of their own lives.  We spent five years together writing My Jane Austen Summer, experiencing ups and downs, including a revelation regarding her father’s trusteeship of a slave-owning plantation in Antigua she never bothered to mention.  But we’ve established boundaries and moved on and, thanks to books, discussion groups, and cyber-celebrations, we meet almost every day; one fixed point in the chaos of life.

What about you?  How did you meet Jane Austen?

Welcome, Austenesque revelers!  This post is offered in conjunction with Austenesque Extravaganza, a month-long celebration of Austenesque novels and authors hosted by Meredith Esparza.  Leave a comment on this post to be included in the drawing for one of 80 Austenesque novels she’ll be giving away.  For more information on the festivities and to enroll in her giveaway, visit Austenesque Reviews.


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Leaving Town

What did we forget to pack?

Confession: I need a shot of adrenaline in order to leave town.  Other people routinely lower thermostats, lock doors, and depart on schedule, but in the fraternity house we call home, I can’t find the thermostat behind last night’s pizza boxes and we’re lucky if our doors are closed.  Nobody organizes so much as a toothbrush without a packing list and the packing list can’t get created until the increasing pressure of a departure date triggers an adrenaline boost.

Warning: dependence on brain chemicals can have unintended consequences.  For example, one’s desk must be cleared before leaving town and clearing one’s desk becomes so fun and easy on adrenaline-spiked blood that hours are squandered resolving dust-covered medical claims and writing past due thank you notes while the mail and the newspaper cry out to be stopped.

But: This summer, my energy boost took a detour.  Instead of toughing it out in my household office: where work-in-progress goes to hibernate and creative writing takes a backseat to hauling vitamin water, my husband established a window corner of his office just for me: a table, an internet cable, and a chair with a lovely view of the world below.  Cool blue walls and busy co-workers encouraged progress.  No one there fusses about summer reading, whines for snacks, or obsesses over 4-player screen mayhem.

Behold: in the serene setting of my “corner office” the needs of my novel became clear.  Ideas and words packed themselves into efficient paragraphs and problems cleared the revision list.  The closer departure date loomed, the more I accomplished.  I allowed the adrenaline boost go straight to my writing.    How could I worry about thermostats when the motivation of my male antagonist was stark staring clear to me?  The only packing list I could generate was the one my protagonist needed to get out of that lake house before it was too late.

Alas: at the very last possible moment I came to my senses and we left town like a moving target.  It comes as no surprise that some teenagers packed only flip-flops, t-shirts, and cell phones.

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Memo to Younger Writing-Self

Me and My Literary Agent

I will never be able to go back in time to visit earlier versions of my writing-self, but if I could, I would offer my younger writing-self a firm pat on the back and tell her that the endless rejection and setbacks would eventually result in a published book. 

Last weekend, I got to do the next best thing.  As a speaker at the Writer’s League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference in Austin, Texas, I was able to tell my story to an audience of aspiring writers who occupied the same seat I occupied four, six, and nine years ago.  In addition to advising them How to Solve Their Soggy Middle Problem and What to Do After Landing an Agent, they got a healthy dose of reassurance from me that, although it might seem as if they took a wrong turn and got sidetracked in rejection and setback, the same path leads to publication, and they are indeed on the right track.  I told them that if they exercised patience and continued to persist through countless revisions, pushed their imaginations two generations beyond capacity, and actually did what the Writer’s League of Texas told them to do, they would one day return to the very same hotel ballroom to sign copies of their published book and deliver their own Craft of Writing Talk. 

But that’s not all.  If they would stand in line to pitch their idea to agents now, they would someday find themselves leaving the Pitching Session early to meet their literary agent for a long conversation about their writing career–over a glass of wine in a quiet corner of the hotel lobby.  And if they would network diligently now, they would someday be invited to mingle among agents and editors at the Conference Faculty Party, not your usual cocktail party chitchat.  And I can witness that the glow from spending a weekend among people who get to work in the publishing industry would persist even after they returned home to a refrigerator full of The Colonel’s leftovers and a kibble bin refitted as a feeding trough by two enterprising dogs. 

I wonder if there is anything my future-self would like to tell my present-self about raising teenagers through structure-free summers.

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