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Guest Post & Giveaway: The Importance of Being Earnest…No I Meant Organized by Maria Grace

Maria Grace’s books have appeared on the blog before — Mistaking Her Character and The Trouble to Check Her — and she’s been a guest here before.  Today, Maria will share a little bit about her writing process.

Before we get to that, read a little bit about the third book in The Queen of Rosings Park series, A Less Agreeable Man:

Dull, plain and practical, Mary Bennet was the girl men always overlooked. Nobody thought she’d garner a second glance, much less a husband. But she did, and now she’s grateful to be engaged to Mr. Michaels, the steady, even tempered steward of Rosings Park.

By all appearances, they are made for each other,serious, hard-working, and boring.  Michaels finds managing Rosings Park relatively straight forward, but he desperately needs a helpmeet like Mary, able to manage his employers: the once proud Lady Catherine de Bourgh who is descending into madness and her currently proud nephew and heir, Colonel Fitzwilliam, whose extravagant lifestyle has left him ill-equipped for economy and privation.

Colonel Fitzwilliam had faced cannon fire and sabers, taken a musket ball to the shoulder and another to the thigh, stood against Napoleon and lived to tell of it, but barking out orders and the point of his sword aren’t helping him save Rosings Park from financial ruin. Something must change quickly if he wants to salvage any of his inheritance. He needs help, but Michaels is tedious and Michaels’ fiancée, the opinionated Mary Bennet, is stubborn and not to be borne.

Apparently, quiet was not the same thing as meek, and reserved did not mean mild. The audacity of the
woman, lecturing him on how he should manage his barmy aunt. The fact that she is usually right doesn’t help. Miss Bennet gets under his skin, growing worse by the day until he finds it very difficult to
remember that she’s engaged to another man.

Can order be restored to Rosings Park or will Lady Catherine’s madness ruin them all?

I love when stories speak to the character of Mary Bennet — she’s the sister in the background, the wallflower. I cannot wait to pick up a copy of this book, especially since I’ve read the other two. Without further ado, I’ll turn things over to Maria Grace:

When Serena and I chatted about me coming by for a visit, she suggested I write something
about my writing process. Since all I’ve been writing recently have been history articles, writing about something else sounded utterly delightful. No squinting my way through period references with weird spellings and long letter ‘s’s, no dealing with fiddly bibliography styles and block quotation formats—a little heavenly really.

So, I started thinking about what in my writing process could possibly be interesting enough or unique enough to write about. Yeah, well, got nothing there. That thought promptly got driven out of my mind while binge-watching the weather channel as an unexpected, uninvited and most unwelcome guest Harvey came barreling through the Gulf of Mexico.

As a storm unlike any other was bearing down on us, I had an imminent book launch and about three weeks’ worth of work to complete while (given past hurricane experience) I expected to lose power as soon as the storm made landfall and for it to remain out of about two weeks. Nothing like that sort of excitement to get the adrenaline flowing—and bring one’s process out into the forefront.

It’s been a little tough to actually sit down and write about it though. Between recovery efforts, trying to get my boys off to start their university schedules, managing the rest of the book launch, and just coping with the stress left over from the storm, putting letters together, much less actual words just hasn’t been happening. I mean seriously, I could have put my cat, Minion, (a polydactyl with thumbs) on the keyboard and come out with something far more
comprehensible that I would have written. Things are better now (ie: I’ve had sufficient quantities of chocolate) and as close to normal as they are going to get in my community for quite some time. So it’s finally time to sit down and try to take a look at what got me through the writing side of this mess.

Really, it all comes done to being organized, on the border of compulsively so. I know it’s not
for everyone and a lot of very normal people go happily and effectively through life never having made a list. But I am most definitely not one of those.

I’m generally a very organized and prepared person, to the point that my kids tease me mercilessly over the little things I do to make my life easier, like the way I unload the groceries onto the conveyor at the store. I put them on a specific way so they can get bagged with like things together making them easier to put away when I get home. Makes sense right? Even the boys know this because they tease me, BUT they appreciate it when it comes time to put the groceries away.

That being said, I have a particular workflow (List #1) that I lean on when I write. Starting out, as I write, I have cold readers who give me feedback and initial proofreading for the first draft allowing me to edit as I go. Once that is done, I compile everything and start editing.

And editing. And editing.

Eventually, I get the final draft done. At that point I pull out my handy-dandy Book Tour list (List #2) and start to contact bloggers to set up a book tour. While that is in the works, I do the final-final edits and send off the proofs to my diligent and ever patient proofreaders. (They really are saints…)

While waiting on the proofs, I finish setting up the tour, plan the posts I need to write and gather the research and notes for all of the articles, and make my tour spreadsheet. Yes, I said that, a spreadsheet. (List #3)

Then it’s back to compiling the proofs and creating the publication draft of the book. At that point, I create an electronic Advanced Reader edition for bloggers and reviewers to have a looky-see at the book before the tour. And guess what– List #4 is there to remind me of all the details of how to do that just in case I get fuzzy along the way.

From that file, I setup the pre-order for the book in advance of the book tour. It’s at this point that everything went utterly sideways. Totally and completely upside down and sideways. Late on August 23, I set up the pre-order which then locked me into a timetable determined by Amazon, one that I could not break out of without serious consequences. Lucky me. Never once did I think, “Gee, this would be a good time to turn on the news and check the weather forecast.”

I should have.

The next morning I woke up to news that Tropical Storm Harvey was now Hurricane Harvey and would hit somewhere between Corpus Christi and Galveston on the 25th, probably as a category 1 storm, possibly a 2. (Back in 2008, Hurricane Ike’s eye wall passed directly over our home. It was ‘just’ a category 2 storm. We were left without power for nearly two weeks after that. Two weeks. And I had a book launch setup for seven days hence.)

Perfect, just perfect.

So, going off past experience, I figured we’d get out power knocked out as soon as the storm made landfall on Friday morning, just like happened with Ike. I needed to get our final hurricane preparations in place AND accomplish at least two weeks of book launch work in forty-eight hours.

(Luckily nearly everything was checked off the Hurricane List at the beginning of the season, so, after a quick grocery trip, I could focus on the book stuff.)

So I went back to the Workflow List (#1) and tried to figure out what was next. Oh joy, next up: format final e-book. Exactly the sort of detailed fiddly thing I love to do when I don’t have two brain cells to rub together. So what’s a gal to do? There’s a list for that! With the help of my e-formatting check list (#5), I was able to get through formatting and upload all the e-formats by midnight—bleary-eyed to be sure, it was done!

Got up early the next morning and put the Tour Spreadsheet (List #3) and List #6-the Blog Tour Material List—up on the computer. No time to think, just jumped on the first line of the spread sheet and started writing. Write, proof, correct, compile materials, send, repeat and repeat again.

Granted, I may not have been at my usual peak of warm wittiness (I can hear you snickering, don’t think I can’t…) but a lot got done as I watched the news of the storm hitting Rockport—leveling Rockport to be more accurate—as it came ashore at a Cat 4, not a Cat 1 storm. I got three quarters of the way down the Tour Spread Sheet before I had to stop, not because of the power outages that I expected but never came, but because we lost internet and the water started rising in places it had never risen before resulting in an evacuation by boat.

Something I didn’t have a list for.

But yes, I will be compiling one soon!

Thanks so much for having me, Serena. Here’s an excerpt from the book at the heart of all this
excitement, A Less Agreeable Man.

First, let me interrupt! I cannot imagine having to launch a book when a hurricane is upon me and water is rising in my house and we must be evacuated.

New Scene (1.2k) Introducing conflict between Mary and Fitzwilliam:

Mary stormed back to Rosings manor from the remains of the newly planted section of
the kitchen garden. Her half-boots crunched along on the gravel while her skirts swished in an irate whisper. A trickle of sweat fell on her lips; she licked away the salt. Yes, she would arrive in an absolute state of inelegance, but few women could affect angry sophistication under the best of circumstances.

Not long ago, she had sat with Mr. Michaels and Colonel Fitzwilliam offering insight on
how to manage Lady Catherine and even how to bring up the subject of hiring a curate for the
parsonage. It seemed like he had listened to her, taken note of what she had said. But now it was a se’nnight later, and he had apparently ignored it all.

First he chided Lady Catherine for wearing a dinner dress whilst receiving Mary for a
morning call. It took mere moments for the scene to devolve into shouting and stomping and
shrieking and required the whole afternoon to restore Lady Catherine’s equanimity. Now today he permitted her to walk the gardens alone. Why could he not understand that she must never be allowed outside without a companion?

Lady Catherine had become confused and wandered into the kitchen garden instead of
her flower garden. The confusion turned to fear and then anger against the plants themselves, tearing out most of the seedlings and hothouse transplants. It was only by Providence alone that Mary had been walking one of the footpaths near enough to hear the commotion and intervene.

It took an hour complete, but she was finally able to calm Lady Catherine and place her
back in Mrs. Jenkinson’s care, with firm orders that she not be left alone again. The damage to the garden, though, was extensive, a loss Rosings could not afford.

It could all have been avoided had Colonel Fitzwilliam merely heeded her advice. Mary
clenched her fists until they ached. If he was too stubborn to listen, then he deserved whatever happened.

But the rest of them did not—not the staff, not Rosings’ tenants, not the inhabitants of the
parsonage. For their sakes she would get involved.

Barkley—whom the colonel called Small Tom now—opened the great carved mahogany
door and dodged out of her way. Wise servant that he was, he seemed to realize she was not to be gainsaid and did not even make a show of attempting it.

She paused on the marble tile of the front hall, allowing the cool air to soothe the edges
of her temper. Her eyes slowly adjusted to the dimmer inside light and she made out Small Tom as he watched from a safe distance, impeccable in his dark suit and white gloves.

“The colonel?”

Small Tom pointed down the hall.

She gathered her skirts in one hand and stalked toward the study.

She flung open the imposing paneled wood door and marched inside into nearly blinding
sunlight pouring in through the tall windows.

When the room had been used by Lady Catherine, it had been immaculate—granted that
almost certainly meant that no real work was ever accomplished within its walls, but at least it was respectable. Now it looked—and smelt—like a public house near closing hour. The scents of alcohol, stale food and sweaty men hung like cobwebs in every corner. Books, dirty dishes, even furniture were strewn about as though the room were inhabited by Eton students with no housekeeper.

Mr. Michaels and Colonel Fitzwilliam sat on opposite sides of the desk, hunching over
several ledgers. They sprang to their feet, jaws dropping as the door slammed against the wall
behind her.

“What did you think you were doing?” She stormed toward them, stopping at short edge
of the desk.

“Excuse me?” Colonel Fitzwilliam scowled—probably an expression that cowed lesser
officers.

“You sought my advice yet you have summarily ignored it. Now see what your wisdom
has wrought. The kitchen garden has been ruined.” She slapped a small space on the desktop not occupied with masculine detritus.

“Mary?” Why did Michaels look so surprised?

“How dare you march in here—” Colonel Fitzwilliam slowly leaned forward on the desk,
most likely hoping to tower over her and intimidate.

She matched his posture. “And how dare you go on expecting that I will placate Lady

Catherine when you will not do me the courtesy of doing as I have suggested.”

“You have no place to be instructing me as to what I should be doing.”

“Perhaps not. Since you are an all-wise and knowing officer of His Majesty’s service, you are free to apply your understanding to the management of your relations. I shall be very happy to keep away from Rosings, and mind my own business. It is not as though I need your assistance to keep myself occupied.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam’s jaw dropped.

Michaels flinched. He had not seen her fury before. Doubtless best that he know now,
before their wedding.

“Good Lord, talk some sense into your woman, Michaels!”

“I am hardly without sense—or have you forgotten you sought my advice? I might
remind you, I have no duty to look after Lady Catherine, particularly after all the harm she has wrought on my family.”

“Mary, please!” Michaels’ face turned puce. “What has come over you?”

She whirled on him, shaking. “I am not a servant of Rosings! I will be treated with the
respect due a gentlewoman! If you will not heed my counsel, then do not expect me to deal with the aftermath. ”

“I will not be spoken to in this manner.” Fitzwilliam clasped his hands behind his back
and pulled his shoulders erect.

“And I will not, either. Good day.” She spun on her heel and stormed out.

Small Tom was waiting in the hall to escort her out. Was that the hint of a smile playing
about his eyes?

She half-ran all the way to the outskirts of the parsonage’s fields. No rush to get back to
the Collins’ house. As fast as word traveled at Rosings, Collins would already know about her
outburst by the time she arrived. There would be a price to be paid for that, a dear one no doubt.

Usually she controlled her temper so well no one knew it was even there. Charlotte had
seen hints of it—living with Mr. Collins’ ridiculousness had pushed Mary to her limits. Lizzy
had observed it once or twice, but no one else. It had been her secret.

Would Mr. Michaels despise her for it now and jilt her like the matrons believed he
would?

No, he was a patient man, a practical man. A broken engagement would be far too much
trouble for a mere outburst of temper. But in all likelihood she had lost some of his esteem.
There would be a touch of disappointment in his eyes next time they met.

She gulped back the lump in her throat. It was not as though she had never seen that
expression before. She would survive. It would motivate her to try harder and be successful at
reining in her temper and her tongue once again. Perhaps this was a good reminder of what
would be required of her as a married woman.

Thank you, Maria Grace, for sharing with us your story and good luck with the new novel, which I know will be delightful.

INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY: OPEN Until Sept. 28 11:59 p.m. EST

1 ebook of A Less Agreeable Man by Maria Grace

  • Leave a comment about your experiences with Austen-related fiction, your favorite book, or even your experiences writing your own fiction.
  • Leave a way for me to contact you should you be the winner.

About the Author:

Though Maria Grace has been writing fiction since she was ten years old, those early efforts happily reside in a file drawer and are unlikely to see the light of day again, for which many are grateful. After penning five file-drawer novels in high school, she took a break from writing to pursue college and earn her doctorate in Educational Psychology. After 16 years of university teaching, she returned to her first love, fiction writing.

She has one husband and one grandson, two graduate degrees and two black belts, three sons, four undergraduate majors, five nieces, is starting her sixth year blogging on Random Bits of Fascination, has built seven websites, attended eight English country dance balls, sewn nine Regency era costumes, and shared her life with ten cats.  Visit her at Austen Variations, Facebook, and on Twitter.

  • I hope things are back to normal on your end, Maria. You are a superwoman to be right in the middle of the hurricane, format the book and prepare your blog tour at the same time.

    Something tells me that Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mary will get together in the end (just like how Darcy and Elizabeth was in P&P). I kinda like Mary as a character in your book because she isn’t given many chances in life.

  • Susan F

    I love your work and hope that this is a big success.

  • Suzanne

    I love stories about the secondary characters in JA’s books and I hope for a happy ending for Mary.

    • I find the secondary characters fascinating too!

  • Glynis

    Good for Mary and good for you Maria! What an arrogant ****** the colonel is. Hopefully he will start to actually listen to Mary and take her advice. Please don’t enter me in the giveaway as I went on a spending spree at Amazon and bought the second two books among others. Hopefully I will get round to reading them all soon.

    • Thanks so much Glynis! Hope you get lost of reading time and enjoy them!

  • Vesper Meikle

    My favourite JAFF books are the ones that are about Mary Bennet, and if the Colonel is her intended husband then it is a perfect book for me.
    I don’t like Mary and Collins match ups, or the Colonel with any of the other Bennet sisters.
    I just wish there were more books that were not about Elizabeth and Darcy

    meikleblog(at)gmail(dot)com

    • It definitely is difficult to find books not about E&D. I hope this one fits the bill for you!

  • Sharon Legg

    My husband and I loved the P&P BBC 1995 production. As he was house bound going blind from the chemo, I discovered P&P variations! I read them to him and we laughed and cried; we loved them and they initiated our own conversations that needed to be done. He died in 2014 2 days after his 60th birthday. My husband was so much like Mr. Darcy that I now take great solace in reading them and they spark cherished memories.

  • Anita Pelletier

    Love this series and can’t wait to read the next installment. My favorite JAFF book is probably the one I’m reading at that time because it’s so hard to choose.

  • Suko

    Fabulous guest post! Thank goodness the author and her family are safe from harm. I’m inspire to be more organized. Thank you for hosting this international giveaway. I will add it to my blog’s sidebar.

  • Anna (Diary of an Eccentric)

    Sometimes things don’t go at all as planned. I’m just glad she and her family are safe. Big kudos to her for pulling off the launch and blog tour despite it all! No need to enter me in the giveaway. I’ve loved this series so far, and can’t wait to read this one.

  • DarcyBennett

    Thank you for sharing your writing process with us. It has been a long time since I’ve tried my hand at writing. Mostly I used to write poetry and kept a notebook where I would jot down my thoughts and then from there try to craft a poem. jadseah4 (at) yahoo (dot) com

    • I have a catch all notebook like that. I try to keep it in reach most of the time so I can capture those little fleeting ideas that wing past.