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Groundhound Day Guest Post & Giveaway for Madness in Meryton by Jayne Bamber

Welcome to another guest post from Jayne Bamber on today’s blog about her new book, Madness in Meryton, which has a Goundhog Day theme. Before we get to her guest post today, let’s check out a little bit about the book:

When Jane and Elizabeth Bennet return home from Netherfield, two days of heavy rain confine them indoors with their unruly younger sisters, a mother in perpetual need of smelling salts, and the tedious Mr. Collins. When the rain clears, the ladies from Longbourn and the gentlemen from Netherfield are drawn to Meryton by the excitement of Market Day, setting in motion a series of significant events.

That night, Mrs. Phillips hosts a card party for officers of the local militia, where the charming Mr. Wickham tells Elizabeth his shocking history with Mr. Darcy, a man who has only given Elizabeth offense since coming to stay with his friend Mr. Bingley at Netherfield.

The next day, the same thing happens again.

And again, the day after that – and so on, for what begins to feel like an eternity. Elizabeth takes increasingly drastic measures to further the budding romance between her beloved sister Jane and their handsome neighbor Mr. Bingley. Along the way, she arranges improvements in the lives of all of her family, in a effort to end the relentless redundancy that only she seems aware of.

As Elizabeth’s frustration turns to madness, she soon realizes that her inexplicable dilemma is somehow connected to a certain officer and a certain gentleman of her acquaintance….

Elizabeth must forge unlikely alliances and devote her considerable wit to the task of achieving a perfect day for those she holds dear, while facing familiar Fitzwilliam friends and foes, as well as all the mortification and delight of falling in love.

Please give Jayne Bamber a warm welcome.

Hello, Janeites! It is a delight to be here at Savvy Verse & Wit to share a little about my new release, Madness in Meryton. This is my sixth Austen variation, and for those of you not following the tale on Happy Assembly, it is a Groundhog Day vagary – with a twist. If you have read any of my other novels, you will know I share Elizabeth Bennet’s fondness for human folly, and there is plenty of it to be had when dear Lizzy begins to repeat the dame day over again.

The day in question is the day that Elizabeth meets George Wickham and hears his tale of woe, and I have reimagined it as Meryton’s monthly Market Day to heighten the chaos of Elizabeth’s predicament.

The tension between Darcy and Elizabeth is unique in this story, as their predicament blurs the lines between frustration and friendship. To accompany the excerpt I am sharing today, I am also sharing one of my favorite writing playlists that has helped me set the mood for the romantic tension between our favorite couple… enjoy!

***

Darcy smiled as Elizabeth approached him at last. She was smirking at him, her eyes wide and bright. “You must indulge me, sir,” she said. “I have told poor Charlotte that I intend to tease you mercilessly.”

He suppressed his mirth, but leaned closer, dearly wishing she would tease him. “You are still of a mind for mischief?”

“I am, and I expected that you, of all people, would understand – and after all, I am sure your cousin is a man of odd humors and japes – you cannot be so unaccustomed to such larks.”

Darcy only nodded, silently cursing Richard’s charm and verbosity.

“Charlotte observed you staring at me,” Elizabeth said.

“You know why I stare,” Darcy replied.

Elizabeth arched an eyebrow. “I do now – before, I was never quite sure. I always supposed you disapproved of me. And that is what you must do now, Mr. Darcy. Do scowl as though I have just affronted you, and see how Charlotte shall cross her arms and shake her head.”

Darcy did so, affecting a posture of disapprobation. “How is this?”

She grinned. “Very imposing! You look truly vexed. And if I come a little closer, and point my finger just so, she may think I am really giving you the business.” Elizabeth moved near, her slender, gloved finger nearly jabbing his chest, and she twisted her face into a cheeky grimace.

Keeping his countenance stony, Darcy said, “If mischief were an accomplishment, Miss Bennet, you would have no rival.”

She rolled her eyes. “You cannot flatter me while I pretend to be so very rude.”

“Please advise me what you would most like to hear. After all, you did come to speak with me.” A smile began to spread across Darcy’s face, until a waggle of Elizabeth’s finger reminded him to look stern.


He repressed the urge to grab her finger between his teeth, rip off the glove, and kiss her from her wrist to her lips. He cast a nervous glance around the room, thinking it odd that only last night it had been so different with her; he had held her hand, even drew her closer in unguarded moments. They had been lost together on a wave of chaos, and tonight was so drastically different. It was calmer, more sedate, and it made Darcy uncomfortable. He reflexively took a step back.

Elizabeth withdrew her hand and folded her arms. “Tell me about your day – have you had any success?”

Darcy considered before he answered, and here he was sure his face looked naturally grave. “I spoke with him, yes. He made similar allusions to some future scheme, as he did with you. But he left town very willingly. It has made me wonder.”

“What?”

“Well, I wonder if he is as significant in all this madness as I had originally thought. Could it be so simple, to merely send him on his way? Is it necessary that I discover what he is up to?”

Elizabeth knit her brow as she mulled this over. “I have always supposed I had some purpose, something to alter and improve, in the course of the day, and I had believed you must, as well.”

“And so I had thought,” Darcy agreed. “But I begin to wonder if it is Wickham, or perhaps something else.”

“Such as?”

Darcy involuntarily glanced over at Bingley, who was still sitting with Jane Bennet, conversing with animation as she smiled placidly at him. His heart raced. It could be that – but how could he tell her?

Elizabeth had followed his gaze, and something flashed in her eyes – hurt and anger and betrayal. And something very wild. Darcy shifted awkwardly, and caught himself reaching for her hand as if it were the most natural response. He stilled himself, watching her face as so many emotions played out there.

“I am not sure about anything, anymore,” he breathed. His fingertips twitched, brushing hers.

Elizabeth flinched, peering up at him curiously, almost fearfully. “Do not be too hasty, think it over,” she whispered. Her hand brushed his again, and she drew in a sharp breath.

It was torture for Darcy. All evening it had nagged at him, that Bingley could not be allowed to seriously consider Jane Bennet, and yet Darcy himself was in way too deep with Elizabeth. The woman who would despise him forever if she knew what he was thinking, what he was growing quite convinced he must do.

Again his eyes drifted to Bingley. The man was falling for a woman who thought of him as merely an amiable acquaintance, nothing more, no little difference from Darcy’s own situation. He would save Bingley to save himself, and if Elizabeth hated him tomorrow, at least there would be a tomorrow.

Several things happened in quick succession. Elizabeth’s countenance went cold, and he knew she was not pretending anymore. He also knew she could see what he was thinking. She looked away suddenly; Miss Lucas had apparently perceived the tension between Darcy and Elizabeth, and was moving that way as if to intervene. The music had stopped, and Mr. Collins abandoned Mary Bennet once he had Darcy in his sights.

Elizabeth gave Miss Lucas a little shake of her head, and her eyes flicked over to Mr. Collins, whose lips were moving slightly, as if rehearsing the lavish praise of Lady Catherine that he would soon bestow on Darcy. Miss Lucas quickly changed her course and intercepted the parson.

Bingley came from the opposite direction, Jane Bennet on his arm. He clapped Darcy on the shoulder. “Darcy, how are you enjoying the card party? Not quarreling with Miss Elizabeth again, I hope?” He laughed nervously, and the Bennet sisters exchanged a silent, knowing look.

“We were speaking of you,” Elizabeth replied, arching an eyebrow. She met Darcy’s eye just long enough to land her point. “I was wondering why you were not dancing. You enjoy the amusement so much more than your friend, Mr. Bingley.”

Bingley just smiled his affable, idiotic smile, nodded, and laughed. “Well,” he cried after a moment, “we have been lost to all the world in conversation!”

Miss Bennet smiled as well, and said nothing. Quite the conversationalist indeed. Poor Bingley had probably been pouring his heart and soul out to her, in exchange for diffident smiles and wide eyes hooded with long, dark lashes.

Across the room, Miss Lydia appealed to her sister, Miss Mary, to take up the instrument where Maria Lucas had left off. Darcy tried not to flinch at the girl’s grating voice, and he looked back to Elizabeth. “I fear Miss Elizabeth has not had as pleasant a partner in conversation as her sister,” Darcy replied. “Though I am not fond of dancing, I am rather better at it than speaking, when words often fail me.”

Again Elizabeth arched an eyebrow at him, her look so intent she could scarcely be aware of Bingley and her sister. There really was nothing he could say now, he knew. But he offered her his hand as the music resumed.

Bingley laughed. “Well, we shall not be outdone by Darcy here,” he told Miss Bennet before turning to Darcy. “Well done, you know, turning the table on me – it is always me, urging you to dance.” He guffawed again, “I shall not disappoint you, Jane.” He grabbed Miss Bennet’s hand and she gave a gentle laugh as he whisked her away to dance.

Darcy and Elizabeth had frozen at Bingley’s use of Miss Bennet’s christian name. Her hand hovered over his for a moment before she accepted it, and she kept her head downcast as he led her to join her sisters in the dance.

They began the movements in a heady silence before she finally looked up at him. He tried to smile, tried to convey some message of reassurance in his face, but something felt different now.

Elizabeth glanced over at her sister, and then back at him. They turned in time to the music. “Will he?” They spun again. “Disappoint her?”

Darcy placed his hand against hers as they went down the dance. He observed Bingley as they moved past him. Elizabeth stared probingly at him. Miss Mary fumbled the keys of her instrument for a moment, and Miss Lydia laughed. The dancers all attempted to recover the rhythm; they spun again. Elizabeth’s jaw tightened as he placed his hand on her back for the next movement of the dance. He knew he had not answered her, and she expected him to.

Darcy sighed. “I do not know yet.” Elizabeth averted her eyes, and did not speak for the rest of the dance.

Doesn’t this sound like a fun P&P variation? I think so. Thanks, Jayne, for stopping by. Readers please enter the giveaway below.

ENTER THE GIVEAWAY

About the Author:

Jayne Bamber is a life-long Austen fan, and a total sucker for costume dramas. Jayne read her first Austen variation as a teenager and has spent more than a decade devouring as many of them as she can. This of course has led her to the ultimate conclusion of her addiction, writing one herself.

Jayne’s favorite Austen work is Sense and Sensibility, though Sanditon is a strong second. Despite her love for Pride and Prejudice, Jayne realizes that she is no Lizzy Bennet, and is in fact growing up to be Mrs. Bennet more and more each day.

 

Guest Post & Giveaway: Writing in Times of COVID-19 and Social Protest by Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin

It seems like I’ve know Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin forever, and maybe I have, but I love their passion for teaching, especially for teaching students how to write creatively, especially when it may be hard to do so because of isolation and pandemics. Their second edition of Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets was published this month, and they’re kind enough to stop by with a guest post about the book, writing during the pandemic, and more. One lucky U.S. resident could receive their very own copy of the book, which includes workshop-tested prompts and poems from students, local writers, and more.

Please give Valerie and Lynn a warm welcome, and stay tuned for the giveaway:

Valerie Fox and Lynn Levin: Thanks, Savvy Verse & Wit, for inviting us to talk about Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets (2nd Edition) and to talk about our writing and teaching.

Lynn Levin: The new coronavirus has us living in strange and fraught times that will surely go down in the history books. And it’s the same for the Black Lives Matter movement that continues to gain power after the murder of George Floyd. As writers, many of us feel that it is vital to wrestle with these cataclysmic events, to engage them in our writing. We have some ideas for addressing these issues in your creative writing: some of them are based on our teaching and our own writing practice, some of them are adapted from our new book Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, Second Edition.

Valerie Fox: Yes, the COVID-19 times have surely had an impact on so many aspects of our lives, in so many ways. Teaching-wise, I noticed in March and following, how it was really important for writers in my college classes to document their lives, in as you say, “fraught” times. In one class, we were reading and writing about flash fiction, and when given the choice between creative and critical writing, most students chose to write their own flash fiction, poetry, or creative non-fiction. And many were very eager to document their lives in isolation, their worries for friends and family most at risk, and so on. Importantly, as the Black Lives Matter protests intensified, many were taking part in demonstrations and documenting that, too.

The reflection, learning, and writing on race, as well as the reflection, learning, and writing on the pandemic—both deeply influenced these writers. One strategy that was helpful involved asking writers to create in a letter format (addressing their future self, for instance, or directed to a real person being affected by the virus, and so on).

Here’s one example. Some clever writers (as a collaboration) exchanged photographs representing their work spaces and feelings of isolation, and then they wrote poems about each other’s photographs. This got the writers thinking about perspectives, and their creative collaboration was a great way to connect.

Lynn, do you have some specific tips?

LL: Yes. There is a lot to be angry about these days, and the I-hate poem, a prompt from our book, may provide you with a stance by which you can address people who refuse to wear masks, who pack into virus-spreading events, who are responsible for taking innocent black lives, and who generally espouse all types of hate and bigotry. You could write an I-hate poem directed at the virus itself or prejudice itself. You might write your I-hate poem in list form or in stanzas with rhyme.

Turning specifically to the COVID-19 pandemic, we find ourselves having to social distance and stay at home as much as possible. This can be frustrating, and we have a prompt in the book called the paraclausithyron that is well suited to expressing how it feels to be separated. In the classic literary tradition, the paraclausithyron is a lover’s lament before the beloved’s closed door. In this case it may be your lament before your beloved hair dresser’s locked salon door, or the closed door of your school, or the closed door of your child’s school. To write a paraclausithyron for COVID-10 times, you might address the door or the person behind the door as you reveal your longing and imagine how you would like things to be. You could even use the paraclausithyron to express your frustration at needing to stay home behind your own closed front door.

Here’s a look at Serena’s junk drawer

VF: Yes, “Home” as an idea, sense of place, setting, or motivation for writing. For one online class, with Writers Room, we asked students to think about previous homes they had lived in and use memories and descriptions as the basis for poems. Another exercise was to write about the contents of junk drawer or medicine cabinet in their present home. The junk drawer writing inspired many writers to look closely at some part of their homes (or their lives) that they don’t usually inspect so thoroughly. Then, they could use the items/images/tools/mementos to jog their memories or help them come up with a story. Some poignant work came out of this.

Personally, I have a lot of unfinished writing, so in these recent days I’ve been spending a lot of time editing and striving to finish works. Earlier this summer, I felt paralyzed when it came to starting new pieces. So I am using our prompts, Lynn. Our “change a moment in time” chapter has been helpful, specifically. And I also created a poem based on our “Song-title” chapter, to develop a character in a series of linked flash fiction pieces I am currently working on.

One of the unexpected outcomes of not seeing people as much in person has been doing more online workshops. I enjoy that, a lot, including with my usual longstanding workshop I have belonged to for ten plus years. (Though I miss the snacks and wine and being in the same physical space.) I have tried a few other online workshops, as well. The deadlines are useful.

LL: If you are in an online poetry writing class at a school or through a literary organization, you are lucky because you are already in a community of writers. But COVID-19 makes building a community of writers more important than ever and more challenging, especially because you cannot congregate at a coffee shop or library or other physical space. That said, a blog like Savvy Verse & Wit gives writers and readers a special gift. It creates a dynamic gathering, and
it’s not bound by geography.

Serena, thank you so much for creating this beautiful community and for giving us a chance to share.

Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your insight.

About the Poets:

Levin and Fox co-authored Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, Second Edition, which was published in 2019 by Texture Press. It was selected as a 2020 finalist by the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. It’s organized around twenty specific writing prompts, and includes numerous examples accompanying all of the prompts. The examples are from both established writers, up-and-coming writers, and even those from the tradition. Both Levin and Fox have been teaching writing at Drexel University for over twenty years and enjoy collaborating and teaching together.

Valerie Fox has published writing (prose and/or poetry) in Juked, Philadelphia Stories, Reflex, The Cafe Irreal, A3 Review, Across the Margin, Cleaver, New Flash Fiction Review, Sentence, Hanging Loose, and other journals. Valerie’s books include The Rorschach Factory, The Glass Book, and Insomniatic. A story she wrote is included in The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings. Her work has been selected for both the Best Small Fictions and Best Microfiction series. You can learn more about her work here.

Lynn Levin’s most recent poetry collection, The Minor Virtues, is listed as one of Spring 2020’s best books by The Philadelphia Inquirer. Her previous collections include Miss Plastique, Fair Creatures of an Hour, and Imaginarium. She is the translator, from the Spanish, of Birds on the Kiswar Tree by Odi Gonzales and co-author of Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets. Her poems have appeared in Boulevard, Artful Dodge, on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac, and other places. She teaches at Drexel University. Visit her website.

ENTER the Giveaway: Comment about why you’d like to win the book, Poems for the Writing: Prompts for Poets, Second Edition by Aug. 7 at 11:59 p.m. EST

Guest Post & Giveaway: Victoria Kincaid Shares Her New Audiobook Release, When Mary Met the Colonel

Please welcome back Victoria Kincaid to the blog today. She’s going to let us into the world of Mary Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam from When Mary Met the Colonel, a new audiobook with the fabulous narrator Stevie Zimmerman.

But first a bit about the book:

Without the beauty and wit of the older Bennet sisters or the liveliness of the younger, Mary is the Bennet sister most often overlooked.

She has resigned herself to a life of loneliness, alleviated only by music and the occasional book of military history. Colonel Fitzwilliam finds himself envying his friends who are marrying wonderful women while he only attracts empty-headed flirts.

He longs for a caring, well-informed woman who will see the man beneath the uniform. During the wedding breakfast for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, a chance meeting in Longbourn’s garden kindles an attraction between Mary and the Colonel.

However, the Colonel cannot marry for love since he must wed an heiress. He returns to war, although Mary finds she cannot easily forget him. Is happily ever after possible after Mary meets the Colonel?

Please give Victoria a warm welcome and stay tuned for the giveaway:

Hello Serena and thank you for having me back to visit! I am very pleased to announce the release of my audiobook of When Mary Met the Colonel – a love story between Mary Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam. I’ve wanted to make an audio version of it for quite a while and was thrilled that the wonderful Stevie Zimmerman became available to narrate it. She does a lovely job! At the beginning of the book, the Colonel meets Mary in the Longbourn garden during Elizabeth and Darcy’s wedding breakfast. The scene below takes place the next morning when the Colonel is having breakfast at Netherfield. I hope you enjoy it!

Here’s the excerpt:

All the things I could tell her about Ciudad Rodrigo….

“Colonel, are you feeling well?”

“Hmm?” Fitz looked up from his breakfast plate at Bingley. “Perfectly well, thank you.”

Why was Bingley inquiring?

“That was the third time I asked.” Bingley chuckled.

Fitz rubbed his forehead with one hand. “I apologize. I am not the best of guests. Perhaps I am overly tired.”

“Yesterday was a long day,” Mrs. Bingley said graciously as she poured him more tea. “I am certain Elizabeth and William were quite fatigued by the time they reached London, but they did not wish to delay their departure.”

Bingley smiled at his wife over the rim of his tea cup. “I believe most newly married couples prefer to be alone.”

Mrs. Bingley blushed but said nothing. Fitz had the sense of being outside in the cold, watching a family enjoying a warm Christmas dinner. Do not be bitter. You have a rewarding career, food, a roof over your head, and good friends and family. It is more than many have.
Somehow, such admonishments did not improve his spirits.

“I apologize that I could not secure a place in the post carriage for a departure today,” Fitz told his hosts. “It is very good of you to have me another day.”

“Think nothing of it!” Bingley responded. “We are quite pleased to have you visit. Darcy has mentioned you often, and I am happy to make your acquaintance at last.”

“And I you,” Fitz said. Bingley was quite an amiable fellow and seemed well-suited to his wife. Mrs. Bingley cut into her sausage. “Will you be going abroad again soon, Colonel?”

Fitz nodded. “I expect so.”

Bingley’s eyes lit with interest, but he said nothing. Fitz guessed that he preferred not to discuss the war in his wife’s presence.

She nodded. “My sister Lydia’s husband is in a Northern regiment. She expects he will be ordered abroad soon.”

Fitz said nothing. The Bingleys obviously did not know that he had helped secure Wickham’s commission, and Fitz had no desire to enlighten them. He sought a less fraught subject for the conversation. “How will your parents fare with only two daughters at home?”

Mrs. Bingley smiled gently. “It will be quite an alteration for them. Until recently, we were all five at home, and now three are gone within a short span of time. At least I am close here at Netherfield.”

“Have any of your other sisters formed attachments?” He cleared his throat, unsure why his voice cracked when he asked such an innocuous question.

“None that I am yet aware of,” she responded. “But Kitty is always out and meeting new people. Mary is more retiring.”

Fitz frowned. Why did nobody give Mary the credit she deserved? “I had a very pleasant conversation with Miss Bennet yesterday.”

Bingley’s eyebrows shot up. “Miss Mary Bennet? Are you sure?”

“Indeed, I have no difficulty differentiating the two ladies,” Fitz said dryly. Mrs. Bingley hid a smile behind her napkin.

“Are you much interested in theology?” she inquired.

“No, we discussed—” Abruptly, Fitz remembered that Mary’s interest in military history was a secret. “Uh…history…and the events of the day. It seems she reads the papers a great deal.”

Mrs. Bingley’s eyes widened. “Indeed? I thought she only read Fordyce’s Sermons.”

How was it that even Miss Bennet’s own sister did not know of her true cleverness? The poor woman was even more sadly misunderstood than he had first thought.

He found himself wishing to speak with her again. Soon he would return to London where the women of the ton only discussed gossip and gloves or sought to please his vanity—when they deigned to notice a second son at all. How lovely it would be to have one more conversation
with a woman of intelligence before returning to such dreariness! But how could it be contrived?

He was scarcely acquainted with the Bennet family; calling upon them would surely bring him unwanted attention from Miss Kitty.

“Do you plan to visit Longbourn today, Mrs. Bingley?” he asked, hoping he sounded casual.

She set down her fork. “I should. Mama’s nerves will be in a state after the excitement yesterday.”

He vowed to discover some means to manage Kitty. “I would be happy to accompany you and thank your parents for their hospitality yesterday.”

“That would be very pleasant,” she responded. “Charles, shall you join us?”

“I believe I will.”

Fitz could not account for the sudden rapid beating of his heart.

Sounds intriguing, doesn’t it? I can’t wait to have a listen to this one.

Please leave a comment about your latest favorite read in the Jane Austen variation world? I’m looking for recommendations.

Entries for 1 audiobook will be accepted through July 31, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.

Guest Post: A Publishing Journey by Poet Aries, Author of Aches and Epiphanies

Today’s guest is a poet with a lot of drive, who queried publishers on her own about sending a manuscript to them for publication. Aries was rewarded for her persistence when Olympia Publishers gave her the green light for her collection, Aches and Epiphanies.

Before we welcome her to the blog, let’s learn a little bit more about the collection:

A collection of poetry, prose and thoughts from poet and songwriter, Aries.
From love lost to happiness found; from pain to joy and vice versa. The words of the unspoken and raw human emotions come to the fore.

For those who have stood face to face with love and it has been terrifying or have hidden secrets behind closed doors. For those who find comfort in the hands of another, you will learn, page by page.

As the universe takes its last breath, it looks at you with glittering eyes and smiles. You were worth the destruction.

Please give Aries a warm welcome:

My name is Aries and I’m a 21-year-old poet and just three months ago, I released my debut poetry book, Aches and Epiphanies.

I started writing poetry when I was 16 and needed an outlet to express my feelings. I started off writing in the comments section of photos I used to post on an Instagram page I made, but only a few of my friends knew about it. I liked having a place where I could write down my thoughts and feelings privately, but as I grew more confident I realized these were more than just thoughts; they were poetry, and I wanted my work to be seen. From there I began writing everything down in notebooks, and when I turned 18 I decided I wanted to get a book published. I was completely new to the entire process and started out just emailing publishers to ask if I could send over a manuscript. I kept doing this until one replied, and one year later came my proudest piece of work: Aches and Epiphanies. So much hard work goes into the process of writing and editing but I wouldn’t change it for the world. It’s been incredible reading and re-reading my poems, and changing them up a little as well.

Aches and Epiphanies is divided into two chapters, the first chapter exploring pain in the form of misunderstandings, breakups and confusion. The second chapter talks about all the things I’ve learned and the good that has come from the bad. How the sun always rises even when the night seems endless.

I wrote all the poems in the span of about three years, taking notes of little experiences and then expanding them. I found it really therapeutic to put all my feelings down on a page because then, they can have a new life, and they’re no longer interfering with my happiness or growth. I write about the hurt because I know there are people out there who feel it too, and if it can make one person feel less alone or inspire them, then that poetry has the power to move mountains.

I don’t think I really have a writing process, and I definitely don’t write consistently. There are days when I’ll write pages and pages and then I won’t be able to think of anything for a week. I’ll also write down words or feelings and then go back to them in a month or so when I feel ready. I also love writing on the train, strangely. I think it’s because I have a lot of time to focus and I have a lot of time with my thoughts, but a lot of my first drafts of poems get done when I’m traveling.

Poetry has helped me with lots of other creative outlets such as songwriting; I’ve been a singer/songwriter for over ten years and since starting poetry I’ve found my lyrics have grown and changed in the best way possible. I use a lot of my poems as bases for songs I write as well, so many of my themes in music and writing are similar.

I still have much to learn as a writer and a person, but being able to document all of that and turn it into something beautiful is the reason why I keep writing. Being an author is one of my proudest achievements and I hope one day Aches and Epiphanies will be on someone’s shelf, next to Allison Malee or Rupi Kaur, inspiring them to write too. And one day, they can move mountains.

About the Poet:

Aries is a poet from Kuwait who currently lives in the UK. She is passionate about writing down feelings and turning the pain into something beautiful.

She has enjoyed writing from a young age, as well as composing songs, and is currently releasing music on several platforms.

Aries draws on personal experience as well as the experience of others for her work, and aims to express real feelings on paper to reach out to anyone who is willing to listen.

Guest Post: How I Researched Anna’s Dance: A Balkan Odyssey by Michele Levy

Today’s guest is Michele Levy, author of Anna’s Dance: A Balkan Odyssey, who will explore the research into Anna’s Dance, a journey of self-discovery. But first, as always, please check out the book’s synopsis.

Book Synopsis:

It’s 1968. The world is in turmoil. So is twenty-thee-year-old Anna Rossi, who questions everything about her life, from her mostly Jewish heritage to her fear of intimacy. Summer in Europe with a childhood friend offers a perfect way to escape her demons. When her friend abandons her in Italy, Anna makes the rash decision to travel on with strangers. Her journey takes a perilous turn, leading her into conflict in Eastern Europe and into the heart of the Balkans.

Love, Intrigue, Betrayal—Anna must find the strength to survive.

Without further ado, here’s Michele Levy’s guest post; give Michele a warm welcome:

It seems I have been doing ‘research’ for Anna’s Dance since I first encountered Balkan music and dance as a high school student. References to Balkan dance and songs learned at dance workshops, camps, and groups over many years permeate the novel. But eventually I wanted to explore the roots of that vibrant culture— its tangled ethnic past. Reading Balkan literature and history, I published two articles about the myths and images that history engendered, some of which made their way into Anna’s Dance.

Then in 2008, after co-teaching a Senior Honors Seminar on Genocide for English, history, and psychology majors, I shaped a component on the Bosnian War. That summer, during a week-long seminar on genocide at the US Memorial Holocaust Museum, I explored the museum’s huge library. The following summer, as a museum Fellow, I spent a month immersed in its holdings on both the Holocaust and Balkan violence. From those materials I shaped a conference paper that grew into an article since published in three separate venues: a journal and two books (the most recent listed among the sources).

I widened my research to include the survival of Serbian Jews during the Holocaust and the politics of memory in Croatia, Serbia, and Bosnia post-WWII and the Bosnian War. For this I studied survivor testimonies, newspapers, and relevant online and library materials. I also began to read ancient, but particularly 19 th century, Balkan history and the emergence of competing ethno-nationalisms, like those that engendered the Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination by a young Serb from the Bosnian Black Hand, which aimed to free Bosnia from Austria-Hungary. This desire for ethnic autonomy sparked World War I, helped fuel the outbreak of World War II, and ignited the Bosnian conflict of 1992-1995. Given Macedonia’s recent struggles to name itself, the story has not ended. I wove much of this history, both of Balkan Jews and the Macedonian question, as it is called, into Anna’s journey and Spiro’s character.

For the novel’s settings, I relied on the memory of my four trips to the Balkans, maps old and new, others’ recollections, and guidebooks, especially older ones, given how many routes and names have changed since 1968. Mihajlov, the tiny mountain village where Anna stays with her beloved Spiro, does not exist. But trolling a Macedonian chatroom in 2010, I encountered declarations of extreme nationalist sentiment, some including violence. This convinced me that small pockets of proud former Macedonians might have existed in 1968 Bulgaria, under Zhivkov’s oppressive regime. [A tour of YouTube shows that strong ethno-national feelings continue in 2020. Labeling a song Macedonian might anger a Greek who views it as Greek.]

Since minority communities within a majority culture often cling to their suppressed traditions, e.g. Irish, Scottish, Basque, and Catalonian nationalists, or European village Jews, it seemed possible that Pirin (part of Macedonia till Bulgaria took it in 1913, at the Treaty of Bucharest that ended the Second Balkan War) might harbor some former Macedonians squirming under Todor Zhivkov’s nationalist regime, which sought to create a homogeneous population loyal to Bulgaria. Having earlier labeled its Macedonians a ‘minority’ to please Stalin, by 1968 Bulgaria had reclassified them as ‘Bulgarian’ to suit a changed reality. For this part of the novel, besides consulting books, webpages, and chatrooms, I interviewed Macedonians from both within and outside Bulgaria. Fragments of those stories shaped Spiro’s history.

Belene, one of Bulgaria’s infamous labor camps, proves pivotal to Spiro’s backstory. Here I studied online histories and testimonies from survivors of those camps, some of which operated till communism fell in 1989. Their existence left a painful legacy not yet fully acknowledged. Tzvetan Todorov’s Voices from the Gulag: Life and Death in Communist Bulgaria. provided particularly poignant images, while Elizabeth Kostova’s novel The Shadow Land explores this issue and why some still wish to conceal it.

For Spiro’s past I also researched Bulgarian spy craft, since Bulgaria, the Soviet Union’s most faithful satellite, worked closely with the KGB. In 1978, its spy network became notorious for murdering dissident Georgi Markov with the poisoned tip of an umbrella on a bridge in London, to which he had fled in 1968. Here I used mostly online sources, including reports from MI5 and 6, US government documents, and so forth.

Regarding the American and Western European elements, I experienced what I mention and only made sure to validate those memories online.

Some Relevant Sources

Intense historical research underpinned Anna’s Dance. The articles and chapters include many useful sources that explore Eastern European nationalism and the violence it kindled:

  • Levy, Michele Frucht. “From Skull Tower to Mall: Competing Victim Narratives and the Politics of Memory in the Former Yugoslavia,” in Life Writing and Politics of Memory in Eastern Europe (Palgrave/MacMillan UK, 2015).
  • “The Last Bullet for the Last Serb: The Ustasha Genocide against Serbs, 1941-1945,” Nationality Papers, Vol. 37, no. 6, November 2009 (807-837).
  • Petersen, Roger D. “Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe,” Cambridge University Press, 2002.
  • Poulton, Hugh. “Who Are the Macedonians?” Indiana University Press, 2000.
  • Todorov, Tzvetan. “Voices from the Gulag: Life and Death in Communist Bulgaria.” Robert Zaretsky (trans.). University Park, PA: Penn State Press, 1999.

About the Author:

Like Anna, Michele Levy fell in love early with Balkan dance, which ignited her fascination with the Balkans. Having published on their history and culture, and traveled there several times, she sought to portray in fiction the special beauty, vibrancy, and complexities of the land and of its peoples. And she still delights in dancing to a sinuous rhythm and a strong drumbeat. Visit Black Rose Writing and the website.

Guest Post & Giveaway: In Plain Sight by Don Jacobson

Please welcome Don Jacobson to the blog today with his latest Pride & Prejudice variation In Plain Sight.

As some of you may be aware, Don was challenged by Lory Lilian to write a D/L love story. Joana Starnes also kept pushing/encouraging him to do the same. Well, he finally did it.

Book Synopsis:

“At the end of the day when we are each of us lyin’ flat on our backs, lookin’ at the ceiling, and the vicar is whisperin’ in our ear, the greatest comfort we shall ’ave is to know that we loved well and were well loved in return.”

When Fitzwilliam Darcy’s father slides into an early grave, his son is forced to take on
Pemberley’s mantle. Brandy numbs his pain, but Darcy’s worst inclinations run wild. After tragedy rips everything away, he spends years finding his way back: a man redeemed by a woman’s loving understanding.

Elizabeth Bennet is afflicted with a common Regency ailment: observing the world about her but not seeing those beneath her notice. Then a clarifying act shatters the propriety that has denied her heart the transcendent love she craves.

In Plain Sight explores Jane Austen’s eternal love story by flipping social roles on their heads. From their first encounter, Elizabeth Bennet and the convict known as “Smith” must overcome their prejudices and break through their pride. Only then can they share the treasure hidden in plain sight.

Please welcome, Don, to the blog:

Thank you, Serena, for hosting me today as I continue through the blog tour for In Plain Sight. This vignette is actually an epilogue which could have been presented after the last chapter of the novel. However, I decided that the ending was so much stronger if I left Darcy and Elizabeth and the Pemberley family outside in the great driveway. We know that all will move into their HEA as they are in their Happily-Ever-Now at that exact moment. Yet, for those who might be interested in what happened to our characters in later times, I offer this selection.

An Epilogue of Sorts

Watson’s Mill, Meryton, August 8, 1819

The bread line snaked past the trestle tables set up by the mill’s chained and padlocked iron gate. The counters were staffed by a patchwork of neighborhood notables leavened by folk whose hands showed the wear-and-tear of daily toil. The continuing economic collapse had left those dependent upon the now-silent spinning jennies and looms on the brink of starvation. Even in the midst of this privation, scarecrow children clad in rags gamboled around the flagged mews laid between the five-story brick edifice and the great millpond. The sturdiest mother’s heart or aunt’s nerves palpitated when youthful exuberance overcame good sense as one little one or another streaked toward the greasy waters that usually fed the great wheel powering the factory. The watercourse was still now, its force unnecessary. On the far side of the pool, the Lea-Mimram Canal was filled with a brackish sludge. The refreshing surges of Mimram water that usually swept
through the channel were non-existent in this time of crisis. Great cauldrons of soup steamed in the morning air. Freshly baked bread contributed a yeasty aroma that spoke of brighter days. Granaries controlled by Meryton’s squirearchy had been thrown open to feed the unemployed. Estate mistresses turned out their attics to fill the levy for Longbourn Chapel’s poor box.

Mr. Benton, an archdeacon for the diocese, and Mr. Tomlinson, the town’s Methodist speaker, policed the queue, collecting tidbits of news from their female parishioners. This was not gossip, but rather a taking of the temperature of the neighborhood. Benton would gather tales of drunkenness, illness, pregnancy, and malnutrition and add them to his own
wife’s burden. Mrs. Mary would take that intelligence and confidently march into Meryton’s four-and-twenty parlors of note and prod ladies to do their Christian duty. She was not above leaning upon her connections. Elizabeth Darcy, Jane Bingley, and Georgiana Cecil often would add their considerable social weight through gently worded invitations to
events in town.

Tomlinson, lately a sergeant in His Majesty’s Army, leaned on his earlier experience to winkle out the scent of discontent. He had opened the Good Book when he had closed his military career. Tomlinson believed that a man served the Lord first, but he could also support the realm in second place. Women this day told of caravans rolling north to hear Henry Hunt speak. He knew that his former master, General Fitzwilliam, would take these threads and weave a tapestry that he would lay before Liverpool’s cabinet. The general was settled on a chair leaned against the bolted doors of the tavern opposite the manufactory. His equine companion, Imperator, was left gamboling in one of Purvis Lodge’s paddocks where four or five of his favorite broodmares competed for his affections. Fitzwilliam snorted as he recalled his old friend, nearly twenty he was, prancing about the stable yard, nipping at youngsters to remind them that he was king.

Like Impy, Fitzwilliam was no country squire, wide across the bottom. His usual bluff demeanor and partial deafness gave him an air of rusticated geniality. Yet, he frequently surprised regimental colonels as he explained the facts of life. No officer would ever forget that the horse-breeder at Purvis Lodge regularly cultivated his connections in town’s rarified high country. The militia never gave Meryton trouble.

Comfortably tilted back next to Fitzwilliam was James Foote. Foote’s invisibility, growing from his time as a Longbourn servant, had served the General well as he stage- managed the dark ballet that kept the Czar, Metternich, and Talleyrand in their respective boxes. Foote was adjusting to fatherhood as his wife, the former Miss Tomkins, had recently birthed their second son. She was seated beneath an oak that shaded the town square. Mrs. Foote, along with Charlotte Fitzwilliam, kept a weather eye upon a dozen children from various branches of the Longbourn family.

Also enjoying the shade were two old friends. The black and white board lay upon a portable table set between them. Moves were made, but both men, widowers now after the fever of in the year seventeen had swept off their ladies, spent more time chatting with each other about things of which old men often do, of the world as it was in their youth.

Michael Hastings, now retired, in the midst of his bereavement, had found himself taking advantage of a long-standing invitation to visit Pemberley. There he met his college friend, Tom Bennet, who likewise was draped in black. The two gentlemen sat side-by-side in the great library, a stack of books and a bottle of port between them. Before long, they
reignited their ancient comity. Realizing that loneliness was the quickest path to the grave for men of their ilk, an unspoken agreement was reached. Hastings closed up his Derby house and moved into Longbourn with Bennet.

The judge’s hand hovered above his castle—a staunch tory, Hastings always favored his bishops and rooks. A snuffling sound distracted him.

Affecting a grim look, he speared the miscreant with a beam from beneath bushy brows. The curly headed youngster, old enough to be out of leading strings but not so grown as to have escaped the nursery table, was unmoved. He had the courage of a child well-acquainted with the fact that the Moon and the Sun revolved around him.

Hastings growled. “Well, son, who do you belong to? All of your cousins look like Mr. Bennet here.”—he waved at his opponent who unsuccessfully tried to stifle his guffaw— “and I find myself at a loss.”

The little fellow stood straight and confidently began, “Of course I take after Mr. Bennet. He is my Grandpapa, after all! I am a Darcy!”

Then Master Darcy leaned in and confided. “My Mama told me that we were not Darcys today, but rather Smiths.” So saying he scurried off.

“And where are the…Smiths?” Hastings quizzed his housemate. Bennet pointed with his chin as his eyes returned to the chessboard. “Last I saw, Lizzy and Will were strolling on the towpath.”

###

The shingle crunched beneath their feet as they left Meryton behind and approached Longbourn. The lady was clearly with child.

Elizabeth looked up at Darcy and smiled. “You know how happy you have made Mary and Edward. They have been feeding and clothing the mill families for months. Usually it is just Charlotte and Richard manning the barricades.

“Mary knows that you would be loath to leave Pemberley in August with my pending confinement. I will own that I would have preferred the cooler Derbyshire climes to semi- tropical Meryton. However, you appeared in our sitting room one morning and stated, ‘You are yet able to travel. Edward wrote me telling of their work at Watson’s, and he is concerned that your sister was wearing herself thin. She could use our help.’

“And, you were correct, dearest. Mary is like a terrier and will just not let go or ask for aid.”

Darcy looked down at his wife. The toes of his worn work boots kicked out from beneath the simply hemmed cuffs of his canvas pantaloons. He shifted his shoulders beneath the red-checked cloth of his shapeless shirt. These clothes rarely saw the light of day except when Fitzwilliam Darcy wished to move about incognito, to be unseen by all except the crowd.

“Elizabeth,” he said, “I approached you because I knew that Mary’s silence was out of love for you. Her fear would be that you would become agitated with the knowledge and immediately rush to the stables to have the carriage horses harnessed.

“My own motivation was in a similar vein. I knew that if you had learned of this situation, you would have worried yourself trying to encourage me to overcome my protective nature and allow us to travel. I stole a march on you by acting first.”

He placed his hand atop hers where it rested in the crook of his elbow. “I knew that Bingley would never leave Thornhill, not with your sister so close to her confinement. I hoped to console myself with the thought that Mrs. Denny and Mrs. Keith would be in town, that we could let this opportunity pass. Then I wondered if the militia had relocated to Brighton.”

Elizabeth nodded, “Your instincts were correct. Kitty, as the Colonel’s lady is installed in her Regency Square house lording it over the regiment’s wives. As for Lydia, she has gone to her house in Bristol to await the Captain’s return from the Orient.”

Darcy smiled. “Acting on impulse was the right thing to do. I vow, Elizabeth, I am becoming more like Bingley every day! Speaking of things Bingley, and I ask this for informational purposes only, have you heard anything about the Soamses?”

Elizabeth peered up at him from beneath her brim. “It has been seven years. Not once in all that time have you asked about that awful man and his wife.”

“’Tis a time I would prefer to forget, dearest,” he softly replied, focusing his eyes toward where the arrow-straight ditch crossed onto Longbourn. His wife sighed and answered, “Sir Thaddeus’ son is at Cambridge. His eldest daughter turned seventeen in February. Jane tells me they wished to launch Miss Soames into society this past Season but had to wait until May. They took a house in Portman Square.

“Matlock wrote to say that she assisted, not wishing to punish the daughter for the sins of the parents. The countess found one of her friends to sponsor the girl at court. That acquaintance also threw a small soiree where Miss Soames played and sang. Apparently, that and her £22,000 dowry landed her an offer from a viscount’s second son.”

Darcy nodded as they continued walking. After several minutes he continued, “Lady Soames must had been thrilled with her stepdaughter’s success.”

Elizabeth could feel her husband’s arm tense beneath her hand. “William, it is ancient history. We have three darling children and another on the way. We are done with them.”

Darcy relaxed. “And how many children has Sir Thaddeus gotten upon his wife?”

Surprised at the sudden change in direction, Elizabeth replied, “Five.”

Darcy’s voice rumbled, shivering her entire being. “Hmmmpf. Five to your three, Mrs. Darcy. Miss Bingley, or should I say Lady Soames, is undoubtedly more accomplished than you.”

Elizabeth squeaked and slapped his arm in faux outrage.

He recaptured her errant hand.

Then husband and wife, convict and housemaid, moved down the path toward the manor house, its gables barely visible above a copse of oaks.

Giveaway:

Meryton Press is giving away 8 eBooks of In Plain Sight by Don Jacobson.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

About the Author:

Don Jacobson has written professionally for forty years. His output has ranged from news and features to advertising, television, and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He has previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he began publishing The Bennet Wardrobe Series—

  • The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (2016)
  • Henry Fitzwilliam’s War (2016)
  • The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (2017)
  • Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess (2017)
  • The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (2018)
  • The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament (2018)
  • The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion (2019)

Jacobson is also part of the collective effort behind the publication of the upcoming North and South anthology, Falling for Mr. Thornton: Tales of North and South, released in 2019.

Other Austenesque Variations include the paired books “Of Fortune’s Reversal” (2016) and “The Maid and The Footman” (2016). Lessers and Betters (2018) offers readers the paired novellas in one volume to allow a better appreciation of the “Upstairs-Downstairs” mentality that drives the stories.

Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. As a college instructor, Don teaches United States History, World History, the History of Western Civilization, and Research Writing. He is a member of the Austen Authors Collective and JASNA. He lives in Las Vegas, NV with his wife, Pam.

Guest Post & Giveaway: Rebellion at Longbourn by Victoria Kincaid

Hello readers. Today we have a delightful look at Victoria Kincaid’s latest Pride & Prejudice variation novel, Rebellion at Longbourn.

First, I want to share with you a little bit about the book before we get to Kincaid’s excerpt and the giveaway. Please give her and everyone at Longbourn a warm welcome.

Synopsis:

Elizabeth Bennet’s father died two years ago, and her odious cousin Mr. Collins has taken possession of the Longbourn estate. Although Collins and his wife Charlotte have allowed the Bennet sisters and their mother to continue living at Longbourn, the situation is difficult. Viewing Elizabeth and her sisters as little more than unpaid servants, Collins also mistreats the tenants, spends the estate’s money with abandon, and rejects any suggestions about improving or modernizing Longbourn.

After one particularly egregious incident, Elizabeth decides she must organize a covert resistance among her sisters and the tenants, secretly using more modern agricultural methods to help the estate thrive. Her scheme is just getting underway when Mr. Darcy appears in Meryton. Upon returning from a long international voyage, Darcy is forced to admit he cannot forget his love for Elizabeth. When he learns of the Bennet family’s plight, he hurries to Hertfordshire, hoping he can provide assistance.

Sinking into poverty, Elizabeth is further out of Darcy’s reach than ever; still, he cannot help falling even more deeply in love. But what will he do when he discovers her covert rebellion against Longbourn’s rightful owner? Falling in love with Mr. Darcy was not part of Elizabeth’s plan, but it cannot be denied. Darcy struggles to separate his love for her from his abhorrence for deception. Will their feelings for each other help or hinder the Rebellion at Longbourn?

Isn’t this always how we want to see Darcy? A dashing hero to the rescue.

Hello Serena and thank you for welcoming me back to your blog! Rebellion at Longbourn takes place two years after the events in Pride and Prejudice. Darcy never had a chance to propose at Hunsford. Instead he has been on an extended tour of Canada with Bingley and Georgiana; they have heard nothing of the Bennet family during this time. In this scene they have just returned to London and are awaiting a visit from Bingley’s sisters. Enjoy!

“No doubt your sisters will arrive any minute. I could not allow you to loll about in bed one more minute.” A messenger had been sent to the Hursts’ townhouse very early, and Darcy knew Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst would be eager to share the latest on dits. He experienced a pang of regret; Bingley would be leaving them to stay with his sisters. Darcy and Georgiana had relished his company on their travels.

Bingley sighed and pushed around the eggs on his plate. “I expect I shall receive another lecture about how irresponsible it was for me to gallivant off to North America.”

Darcy grimaced. “At least you have had more practice in saying no to them.” They had criticized Bingley’s decision in every letter. No doubt Bingley would have collapsed into scribbling abject apologies if Darcy had not stiffened his spine. But being on his own had been good for his friend. Bingley had grown far more decided and sure of his tastes when he was away from his sisters’ influence.

“It shall be quite trying when I relocate to Grosvenor Square,” Bingley mused.

“You are welcome to remain at Darcy House for as long as you like,” Darcy remarked.

“It is no imposition.”

Bingley straightened up in his chair. “I may accept that offer.” Darcy knew his sisters would not like it, but obviously Bingley was willing to risk their wrath.

Briggs, the butler, entered the room and announced, “Miss Bingley, sir. And Mr. and Mrs. Hurst.”

Bingley sighed deeply, not like a man pleased to be reunited with his family after a year and a half. Both men stood as the three visitors entered.

The two women gave their brother perfunctory kisses on the cheek, and the men exchanged handshakes. The newcomers helped themselves to breakfast from the sideboard and settled into chairs around the table. Darcy and Bingley talked a little about the details of their trip, but the sour expression on Miss Bingley’s face and the disapproving purse of Mrs. Hurst’s lips suggested they were not particularly interested in that subject. Mr. Hurst was primarily interested in the kippers.

When the weight of disapproval had caused the conversation to wane, Bingley gamely asked, “So, what is the news, eh?”

“You would know if you had ever bothered to write,” Miss Bingley answered tartly.

“I did write.”

His sister rolled her eyes. “I declare it was not above four times! I am overwhelmed by your fraternal devotion. And, of course, the letters were short, dashed-off affairs.”

Bingley rubbed his forehead. “I am a poor correspondent. I acknowledge it, but I am here now. What have I missed?”

This was all the encouragement his sisters needed to launch into twenty minutes of gossip, primarily about people Darcy did not know or could not care about. Eighteen months of freedom from the obligations of the ton had not endeared him to the social whirl, although he supposed he should pay more attention now that Georgiana would be launched in society. Still, he found himself thinking longingly of Pemberley.

His absence had apparently not dimmed Miss Bingley’s hopes of Darcy, for she still addressed the better part of her remarks directly to him, although he had not asked her any questions.

There was only one person he would consider inquiring about, and he did not dare.

Fortunately, Bingley unwittingly assisted him in this endeavor. “What is the news from the Bennet family? You did not mention them in any of your letters.” He leaned forward in his seat.

Miss Bingley blinked. “Why should I?”

“You are Jane Bennet’s friend.”

His sister fluttered her hands. “Friends, Charles? Certainly we were acquainted, but friends…” She gave Mrs. Hurst a sidelong look.

Mrs. Hurst actually giggled. “It is for the best if we do not acknowledge the connection. Thank goodness you gave up the lease on Netherfield!”

Bingley exchanged a glance with Darcy but did not correct his sister’s mistake. Darcy restrained the urge to fidget in his chair as he imagined everything that could have befallen the Bennets.

“Surely you have heard some news from Longbourn,” Bingley said.

“Indeed…” Miss Bingley drew the word out. She was taking pleasure in the suspense.

Darcy’s heart beat faster, knowing that whatever she said would be bad. She would not derive such pleasure from relating news of the family’s extreme felicity. “Shortly after you departed, the father died.”

Darcy could not prevent a gasp. If he had known, he never would have left. If he had known, he would have returned. He was angry with himself for not discovering the news and with Bingley’s sisters for not relaying it. During the early part of the voyage, he had been so intent on endeavoring to forget Elizabeth that he had not sought to know about her family, and this was the result.

“Did Mr. Collins take possession of Longbourn?” Darcy attempted to keep his tone neutral and disinterested.

“Mr. Collins?” Miss Bingley asked. “Oh yes, the clergyman. I suppose so.”

Bingley’s pale face mirrored Darcy’s own distress. “How terrible for Ja—all the Bennets!” Bingley exclaimed. “Where do the sisters reside now?”

A fist clenched around Darcy’s heart. Although he knew change was inevitable, some part of him had secretly expected to find Elizabeth dwelling with her parents at Longbourn just as she had when he departed.

Mrs. Hurst rolled her eyes. “They are hardly the sort of family we would maintain a connection with. How should we know?”

Bingley frowned. “I thought at least you would condole with them, write them a note expressing your sympathy, invite them for tea when they visited town.”

“I am not aware that anyone from the family has been to town,” Mrs. Hurst replied. Strange. Darcy remembered clearly that the Bennets had relatives in Cheapside.

Although Elizabeth might have guessed at Bingley’s sisters’ insincerity, Miss Bennet seemed to believe them true friends. Surely she would have written to them if she visited town—at the very least to maintain a connection with Bingley. Was it possible she had remained sequestered in Hertfordshire all these months? It was scarcely thirty miles’ distance!

The sisters were sharing a conspiratorial smile that triggered Darcy’s suspicions. Surely anything that made these two so very gleeful could not be good for the Bennets.

He crumpled his napkin in frustration. I cannot ask them. I cannot betray too much interest. Patience, he counseled himself. I will learn everything soon.

Aren’t you eager to find out what happens? I know I am.

GIVEAWAY:

One Lucky Reader can receive an e-book of Rebellion at Longbourn. Please leave a comment with email so I can contact you. Deadline to enter is June 24 by 11:59 p.m.

Good Luck, everyone.

Guest Post & Giveaway: The Austen Interviews – An Interview with Captain Frederick Wentworth by Jack Caldwell

Welcome to today’s guest post and giveaway for Persuaded to Sail by Jack Caldwell. This is the third book in this series of books about Jane Austen’s fighting men. Persuasion is my second favorite of Austen’s novels. Caldwell has crafted an excellent interview with Captain Frederick Wentworth and there is a giveaway.

But first, as always, here’s the synopsis of the book:

The long-awaited sequel to Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. After an eight-year separation and a tumultuous reunion, Anne Elliot marries the dashing Captain Frederick Wentworth. The pair looks forward to an uneventful honeymoon cruise aboard the HMS Laconia.But the bride and groom find the seas of matrimony rough. Napoleon has escaped from Elba, the country is at war with France again, and the Admiralty imposes on Wentworth a mysterious passenger on a dangerous secret mission. The good captain is caught between duty to his country and love for his wife. All eyes are trained for enemies without, but the greatest menace may already be on board…

Without further ado, check out the interview:

JACK CALDWELL – Hello, everyone. Jack Caldwell here. It has been a few years since I’ve done one of my famous interviews.

COLONEL FITZWILLIAM (off stage) – Famous in your own mind!

JC – Quiet in the peanut gallery! Now, where was I? Oh, yes. To celebrate the launch of my tenth novel, PERSUADED TO SAIL, a sequel to Persuasion and Book Three of Jane Austen’s Fighting Men, I have returned to this studio outside of time and space to interview the second most romantic man in the Jane Austen Universe. Let’s have a big hand for Captain Frederick Wentworth!

CAPTAIN FREDERICK WENTWORTH – I thank you, Mr. Caldwell. But the second? Who would be the first?

JC – Number One in the fans’ mind would be Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.

FW – I do not know the gentleman.

JC – No, you wouldn’t, being stuck out in the middle of the ocean all the time.

FW – I would not refer to serving in His Majesty’s Royal Navy as being “stuck” anywhere.

JC – Her Majesty’s.

FW – I beg your pardon? Has something happened to King George?

JC – Queen Elizabeth II rules Britain now. This is the year 2020.

FW – I see. But Britannia surely continues to rule the waves.

JC – Not anymore. That would be the United States Navy.

FW – What? The colonialists? That cannot be!

JC – Hold your horses there, Freddie. The Royal Navy’s a solid Number Two. Besides, we’re allies now.

FW – My name, sir, is Wentworth. And I must say I do not care for this “Number Two”
business.

JC – You’ll get used to it. It’s better than what happened to France. But, let’s get back to you. You may not be the JA fans’ ideal lover, but you write a mean letter. You’ve been melting hearts for two hundred years. How did you come up with that note?

FW – I simply wrote the words emblazoned upon my heart for eight years.

JC – Wow, that’s a good one. I have to remember that for my anniversary. Which brings me to my next question. Why’d you wait eight years?

FW – I was jilted in 1806, if you recall.

JC – Yeah, but you were just a commander. Two years later you made post. Why didn’t you try again in 1808?

FW – I suppose I could use a broken heart to excuse myself, and there is some truth to that. But I must own it was my pride.

JC – If I understand you correctly, your success, which led to your advancement and wealth, made you too proud to return to Miss Anne Elliot?

FW – Yes. In my pride, I thought myself above the daughter of an impoverished baronet, especially one who was persuaded to jilt me only two years before.

JC –Anne would have welcomed a renewal of your attentions.

FW – I know it well, and it tortures me! What a fool I was! Years of happiness I could have had with my sweet Anne wasted because of my stupid pride!

JC – Not just pride. Weren’t you just a little jealous when you did return to Kellynch Hall?

FW – Yes, I was. Pride and envy—are they not two of great sins we are warned against? Upon my return, I wished to prove that Anne had no power over me, that I was free of her. My pride got me nearly entangled with Miss Louisa Musgrove. How ill-used that poor girl was! Thankfully, she recovered from her fall, fell in love with Benwick—an outstanding gentleman—and forgave me my caddish behavior. And when I knew myself, I thought I was too late, that Anne would accept Mr. William Elliot. The pain my jealous heart caused me! I was well paid for my foolishness.

JC – You were fortunate that Anne figured out Elliot’s game. And you were fortunate no one saw that letter before Anne got it.

FW – Boldness has served me well, both at sea and on shore.

JC – Looks like you and Mr. Darcy have something in common. I refer to writing awesome letters.

FW – I must meet this Mr. Darcy someday. He is married, I trust?

JC – He sure is. Now, my new novel, PERSUADED TO SAIL – on sale now! – chronicles your honeymoon cruise with Anne to Bermuda. But there are surprises—

FW – Chronicles? You write about my voyage? Were you on board?

JC – Of course, I was. I’m the author. As I was saying—

FW – Sir, I must ask your meaning! Were you spying on Anne and me?

JC – That’s my job.

*** (SOUND OF SWORD LEAVING ITS SCABBARD) ***

FW – Stand up, sir! I will have satisfaction!

JC – Wait! You don’t understand! That’s not how this works! I write about Anne and you, the readers read it, and they fall in love with the both of you all over again!

FW – No one spies on my Anne! No one!

COLONEL FITZWILLIAM (off stage) – Need any help?

JC – Oh, wonderful! SECURITY! Thanks, everybody for stopping by this episode of the Austen

Interviews! I think Serena is offering a giveaway for you. Just check below. SECURITY!

FW – Fitzwilliam, hurry along! He is getting away!

JC – SECURITY!!

Giveaway

Leaving your comments and your e-mail address below this post you can get a chance to win one (1) physical copy and one (1) e-book copy of PERSUADED TO SAIL. (Note: Only U.S. addresses are eligible for physical copy, so please add the country you are writing from in your comment).

This giveaway ends on June 23, 2020, at 11:59 p.m.

Guest Post: A Writing Space in a Plague by Sarah Relyea, author of Playground Zero

Today’s guest is Sarah Relyea, author of Playground Zero. Her novel explores identity during a tumultuous time in American history, the late 1960s, when freedoms begin to emerge thanks to the counterculture of the 1960s. Before we hear and see Sarah’s writing space, let’s check out the book and a brief excerpt.

Book Synopsis:

1968. It’s the season of siren songs and loosened bonds—as well as war, campaign slogans, and assassination. When the Rayson family leaves the East Coast for the gathering anarchy of Berkeley, twelve-year-old Alice embraces the moment in a hippie paradise that’s fast becoming a cultural ground zero. As her family and school fade away in a tear gas fog, the 1960s counterculture brings ambiguous freedom. Guided only by a child’s-eye view in a tumultuous era, Alice could become another casualty—or she could come through to her new family, her developing life. But first, she must find her way in a world where the street signs hang backward and there’s a bootleg candy called Orange Sunshine.

Excerpt from Playground Zero (Part II, Chapter 5):

Then on Sunday, Alice’s father asked if she would go for a walk.

“Where are we going, Dad?”

“Just for a walk. It’s a beautiful day.”

So, he’d learned the local commonplaces, Alice thought, though coming from him the slogan sounded phony and jarring.

She could see they were heading for Telegraph Avenue. She wondered if they would be passing People’s Park, but her father was an uneasy presence and there would be no asking. Contact of any kind was becoming unbearable; there was a hum whenever they found themselves alone in a room, the sound of suppressed anger. She could not remember when they’d last gone anywhere together; but here he was, on a Sunday in May, offering to lead her on a walk through the forbidden zone. Maybe the park was a sign of change, and he was responding. Maybe the adventure would forge a bond between them, the beginning of a new sympathy. She’d never been on Telegraph Avenue with her father alone. She could sense him moving alongside her, carrying her along. Why was he taking her there? Was there something he planned to show her, something he wanted her to know?

Rounding the corner by the park, they saw armed men guarding the fence, the hapless parcel of land overrun by vehicles and equipment. One hand resting on her shoulder, her father shepherded her across the street and proceeded along the edge of the park. Every few yards, they passed close by a National Guardsman as the young man’s face responded, the eyes following them, human and wary. Armed with rifles and gleaming bayonets, the men were ready for combat, or for a sunny campus day.

Her father had placed himself between her and the armed men, as though forming a moving barrier—ready to block, dodge, flee. She was by a scrimmage line, and he was guarding her. They pressed on, ready for a move by one of the guardsmen. Then, as they passed a heavy-jawed man, the man shifted his weight and her father veered, bumping her hard.

The sunny day glared numbly, marred by her father’s fear. If only she could run home, but her father’s hand was grasping her arm.

Moving at a faster pace, they cleared the park and rounded the corner onto Telegraph Avenue. The army camp had faded, mirage-like, replaced by simmering anarchy and people in colorful garb. Her father was moving along in a bubble, barely glancing around as he paused and removed a copy of the Berkeley Barb from a vending machine.

“Here’s the paper,” he remarked, handing it over. “Don’t go anywhere—I’ll be right back.” Then he moved on, leaving her by the door of the jeans shop as he approached a nearby jewelers. She unfolded the Barb: on the cover was a photograph of a boy, younger than herself and seated in a swing. Up he smiled, sunny and joyful, at the overbearing body of an armed man, demanding that he leave or be uprooted and removed.

Emerging from a doorway, a boy dropped and crushed a smoldering cigarette before prancing on.

She moved under an awning, away from the flow of passersby. A car horn sounded as a Ford pulled up; the door swung open and several longhaired boys tumbled forth in purposeless hurry to be there.

As she lingered by the jeans shop, wondering why her father was buying jewelry, she was bumped by a young man. Pale forehead, black hair, eyes of blue glass: she’d seen him before, maybe in photographs of the park. He was lean and muscled, wearing frayed bell-bottoms slung low; beads on a leather thong hung over the bare abdomen. He paused before her, shoulders pale, and waved the lazy plume of a musk-smelling cigarette. He engaged her eyes; as he reached forth offering her a smoke, she saw the thumb, where he wore a heavy ring made from the handle of a spoon.

“I’m Johnny,” he confided, holding the smoke between them. The tone was close and friendly. “I’ve seen you before.” He put the joint to his mouth and inhaled sharply. When he spoke, a plume poured from his mouth, fading. “What’s your name?”

The heavy cloth of the awning flapped near her face. “My father’s in there,” she said, and glanced toward the jewelers.

He moved away and was soon squandering words with a couple of boys her age. They reminded her of windup toys she’d once seen, abandoned in random movement on a store shelf.

When her father emerged from the jewelers, he was burying something in a jeans pocket. The jeans were no longer new; he always wore them now when he was home. She wondered what he’d found in the shop but never bothered asking, sure of an uninformative response.

They were passing along the park, as they’d come, when her father grasped her arm roughly and dragged her by a parked car. Then he leaned and scooped up a fragment of asphalt, balancing it loosely in his palm, as a nearby guardsman adjusted his bayoneted rifle. She would have run, but how could she abandon her father to the guardsman? She was staring at the man’s rifle in the ugly noonday glare, when her father propelled her along between the parked cars and across the asphalt no-man’s-land to the far side of the street. There they passed an overgrown rhododendron.

He tossed the rock in the rhododendron.

“What happened?” she asked.

He made no response. When she looked up, there were damp beads under his mouth and in the lines of his forehead. “He made a threatening move,” he answered, finally. She’d seen nothing—or maybe she’d been unaware of the meaning of things she’d seen. As they passed out of sight of the guardsmen, her father glanced over and then away. “Do you plan to inform your mother that we came by the park?” he demanded. “She’ll be unhappy with us both.”

Alice was feeling too confused to respond.

“Well, have it your way,” he added.

Sounds intriguing doesn’t it? I really wonder what is going on here and what Alice is thinking about this encounter. Check out the YouTube book trailer later on.

Please welcome Sarah as she shares her writing space with us today.

For several years, my writing space had been a small apartment in Brooklyn. No rural cottage, the space nevertheless offered a clean desk and comfortable chair, easy access to my books and papers, and freedom from interruption. As a New Yorker, I’d learned to forgo suburban comforts: the plush leather chair and backyard gazebo. I wouldn’t know a mud room even if I was sinking in its quicksand.

Then everything changed. Governor Cuomo’s stay-at-home order threatened to cut me off from everything but my carefully controlled sanctuary—in what suddenly seemed a germ-infested apartment building. And not for a few focused days, but for weeks or months of bleak confinement.

There are moments when heaven and hell become indistinguishable.

I hurriedly packed my computer, some books and papers, and a few changes of clothing. My ex had kept our apartment in ultra-gentrified Park Slope, and we’d agreed to help each other through the pandemic. Who else could we rely on? Wearing rubber gloves for the escape, I climbed into a germy cab just as the car service was shutting down for the quarantine. If I couldn’t flee to the Hamptons, at least there was Park Slope!

And here I am, with a messy partner. Uncomfortable furniture. Mold. A troubling cough. It’s pollen season, we keep reassuring each other. And the apartment is very dusty.

One creates a writing space by writing in it. I wrote the early drafts of my novel, Playground Zero, in this Park Slope room. But the room has changed; my partner and I have changed. Fortunately, writing is internal. I wrote about California while living in Brooklyn. There was method in that, because the real writing space is a space of the mind. The physical space merely grounds the writer.

I open a window and let in the good light. My coughing eases. Windows are comforting and transitional—between the world and me.

If only I had an old farmhouse overlooking the fields. (Melville wrote Moby Dick in such a room, though—spoiler alert!—Captain Ahab is not a farmer.) But sometimes we must make do with cramped quarters, other people’s stuff, and ambulance sirens wailing in the distance.

Right now, my window leads to a world in collapse. Dare I go out and enjoy the daffodils? The neighborhood, shuttered and hushed, is not the place I’ve known. I can’t see the ambulances as they pass blocks away, so I imagine them. I adjust to an uncomfortable chair and wonder what will be left when the ambulances stop wailing, when we’re free to emerge. Free to stop imagining and be city kids again.

Book Trailer for Playground Zero:

About the Author:

Sarah Relyea is the author of “Playground Zero,” a coming-of-age story set in Berkeley in the late 1960s. Sarah left the Berkeley counterculture at age thirteen and processed its effects as a teenager in suburban Los Angeles. She would soon swap California’s psychedelic scene to study English literature at Harvard.

Sarah has long addressed questions of identity in her writing, including in her book of literary criticism, “Outsider Citizens: The Remaking of Postwar Identity in Wright, Beauvoir, and Baldwin.”

With her PhD in English and American literature from The Graduate Center, CUNY, Sarah has taught American literature and writing at universities in New York and Taiwan. She remains bicoastal, living in Brooklyn and spending time on the Left Coast. Visit her on Facebook, Goodreads, LinkedIn, and YouTube.

Guest Post: Spend Some Time with Audiobook Narrator Thérèse Plummer

The Audiobook Publishers Association says, “26% of the US population has listened to an audiobook in the last 12 months.” And the American Association of Publishers adds, “Digital audiobook revenue rose 32.1% in 2018’s first quarter and audiobooks now earn publishers more than mass market paperbacks.”

Have you ever wondered what it looks like to be an audiobook narrator in action?

I know I have. Today’s guest is Thérèse Plummer and she’s sharing with us some inside videos of narrating books and Yelp reviews.

Let’s start with the Behind the Scenes look at audiobook narration:

Check out Thérèse Plummer as she narrates Yelp reviews:

About the Audiobook Narrator:

by Jody Christopherson

Thérèse Plummer is an actor and award-winning audiobook narrator working in New York City. She has recorded over 350 audio books for various publishers. She won the 2019 Audie Award for her work on the multicast, Sadie by Courtney Summers for Macmillan Audio, was nominated for the Mutlicast Any Man by Amber Tamblyn for Harper Audio and her solo narration for The Rogue Planets Shaken by Lee W. Brainard for Podium Publishing. The American Library Association (ALA) awarded her work on Sourdough by Robin Sloan as part of the 2018 Listen List: Outstanding Audiobook Narration for Adult Listeners.

Thérèse is the voice of Maya Hansen in the Marvel Graphic Motion Comic Ironman Extremis, Dr. Fennel in Pokemon and for various Yu-Gi-Oh characters. Television Guest Star Roles on The Good Wife, Law and Order SVU and the upcoming series Virgin River for Netflix. Visit her on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

Guest Post: Novels Are Where Ideas Are Born by Vali Benson

Today’s guest is Vali Benson, author of Blood and Silver, who is hear to talk about her creative writing process as a debut novelist and how she got started on her book. As always, let’s take a look at what the book is about.

Book Synopsis:
What is a twelve year old girl to do when she finds herself in the silver boom town of Tombstone, Arizona, in 1880, and her only home is a brothel and her only parent is a drug-addicted mother? If she is Carissa Beaumont, she outsmarts the evil madam and figures a way out.

After tricking the madam, Miss Lucille, into summoning a doctor for her mother, Lisette, she discovers that Miss Lucille has been drugging her. She and the kind doctor make a plan to try to save Lisette by dosing her down on the drug.

Doctor Henderson tells Carissa that the only source for the drug is a Chinese immigrant named China Mary, who lives in Hoptown, at the other end of Tombstone. Carissa has no choice but to go to the powerful woman for help. Many say that China Mary is the one who really controls Tombstone.

China Mary admires Carissa’s brave spirit, and uses her influence to get her a job at the new Grand Hotel, which will free Carissa from her many duties at Miss Lucille’s. She will work along with Mary’s twelve year old niece, Mai-Lin. The two girls become fast friends.

Then, disaster strikes, and the two girls must work together to stay alive.

With a host of colorful characters and meticulous attention to period detail, Blood and Silver is a story of the best and worst of human nature, the passion for survival and the beauty of true friendship.

Period dramas are always interesting, and this one has a lot of dark parts, but also a friendship that I hope survives. Without further ado, please welcome Vali Benson:

Hello! My name is Vali Benson and I just published my first novel. It has been a work in progress for over fifty years. Ever since I can remember, I have had a book in my hand. As a lifelong reader, I often thought, “I could do better than that”. So I decided to do something about it. It still feels funny to say that I am a published author. People have asked me to explain the writing process but I can’t. I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way to write a book. But I do know what works for me.

The first step is to come up with an idea. It must be something that interests you, or that you feel strongly about. No point in picking a subject that you know nothing about. You would have to do far too much research and it still would not sound like you know your subject.

Once when I had severe writers block, a great teacher told me, “Write about what’s in your own backyard.” I took her advice and turned in an award winning essay. That was the inspiration in writing my book; a young adult historical fiction novel called Blood and Silver. The story takes place in Tombstone, Arizona. For thirty years, I have lived in Tucson, Arizona. Tombstone is only forty five minutes down the road, practically in my backyard.

I have been to Tombstone countless times. People are fascinated with Tombstone (not so much after they visit!). Tombstone is not like other “Wild West” tourist towns, like Deadwood or Dodge City. Tombstone has only two blocks of “downtown”. People walk on the original boardwalk (with some repairs) along the main thoroughfare, Allen Street, which was, until
recently, a dirt road.

The population of Tombstone today sits at about thirteen hundred. On the weekends, many of the residents dress up in western garb – as cowboys, sheriffs, frontier gamblers, proper matrons and saloon girls. At first glance, it seems as though this may be a retirement community designated for extras of John Ford films.

However, Tombstone does have one enduring claim to fame – the shoot out at the O.K. Corral. It is called “the most famous thirty seconds in the history of the American west”. The legendary incident is a gunfight that occurred in 1881. The shoot out involved Doc Holiday, Wyatt Earp and two Earp brothers against a gang of outlaws called the Cowboys. Three men
were killed, all of them Cowboys. The Earps and Doc Holiday were already famous in the old west. The gunfight made them infamous.

The real reason people remember Tombstone is because of its enduring place in pop culture due to the twenty or so movies made about the fight. People show up from far and wide and pay a $10 admission fee to look at a dusty, dirty lot behind a run-down barn. At the actual site, people look at mannequins standing where their real life versions stood during that fateful afternoon 139 years ago.

Once I knew the reality of Tombstone today, I wondered how it could have become so famous. I knew about the silver mines, of course, but I had no idea how massive the output was. The profits were mind-boggling. Millionaires were made overnight. The silver created civilization where there was none. At the end of 1877, one hundred inhabitants had found their way to the mines of Tombstone. In 1884, it was a bustling city of fourteen thousand residents. The term “boomtown” was never so appropriate.

Tombstone was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco in 1884, with over 150 businesses, including 100 saloons, and a thriving red light district. Apparently this arid little tourist trap, only forty five miles from my hometown, was more important than I thought! This information began to spin my inquisitive wheels. I began to wonder what it would have been like to live in this obscure place in 1880. The first step was complete; I had a premise that sparked my interest. Now, it was time for the part of the writing process that gives life to the story, research.

It is all about the research. One needs to look in unusual places, not just the top three Google hits. I love sourcing museums, libraries, newspaper archives, and even historical homes. Don’t rely on your computer only. Everyone can get that information. Not only is it not original, it is not interesting. One tip that I would like to emphasize to a burgeoning writer of historical fiction is to seek out the primary sources whenever possible. If you can work from the original source, it falls on you to interpret the story. This allows you to not have to depend on someone else’s version of the truth.

As a writer of historical fiction, historical accuracy is the most important component of the piece to me. It is even more pivotal than the narrative. I cannot tell you how many times I have quit reading a book that claims to be factual because the information and events are incorrect. It really annoys me! It is also important to realize that research is never ending because you can’t ever learn everything there is to know. At some point, you just have to make up your mind that you have enough to craft the story you want to write. Then start writing! I begin writing using my research as a reference and don’t worry if I have a fully formed concept. I believe in the Jodi Picoult approach, “You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page”.

Many writers believe in outlines as a method of organizing and categorizing their research. Outlines don’t work for me. I tend to be too specific. I end up writing the whole story in my outline. What works best for me is to simply write. Just start, and see where it takes you. I flesh out the characters first and I let them take me where they want to go. I often go back and change them, but that’s the beauty of writing. You can do whatever you want with your people, just be sure you wind it up so that it makes sense.

This is why research is so important, because if I can understand the times in which my characters live, I will shape their circumstances and attitudes into the narrative.

As far as my writing habits are concerned, I don’t have many. I just do it. I know that many professional writers say the best method is to treat writing like a regular job with set start and stop times. I’ve tried this and it never feels right. For one thing, when I get on a creative roll, it is nearly impossible for me to stop. Conversely, I cannot force an idea. When I don’t feel like it’s happening, I walk away. I commit a lot of time thinking about my characters. When
inspiration strikes, I will sit down with my glass of sweet iced tea and see how my characters handle the new twist. I know that strong coffee is the traditional nectar of the working writer, but I need my sweet tea. The sweeter the better I say!

When is your story finished? It is finished when you think it is. Before you begin, you will know where you will end up. If you don’t, don’t start. You need to have an idea where you are going. Trust your characters to get you there.

With Blood and Silver, I put my characters through a lot and felt I told the story that I wanted to tell. After all, I need them to rest up for the sequel.

About the Author:

Vali Benson started and sold two successful businesses before she decided to pursue her real passion of writing. She published several articles in a variety of periodicals, including History Magazine before she decided to try her hand at fiction.
In April of 2020, Vali published her first novel, “Blood and Silver”. That same month, she was also made a member of the Western Writers of America.
Vali grew up in the Midwest. She now lives in Tucson with her husband, two sons and two grandchildren.

Guest Post: Blue People or Hoax by Isla Morely, author of The Last Blue

Today’s guest is Isla Morely, the author of The Last Blue, who found a family portrait on the internet that she thought had to be a hoax. The picture was of a family, five of whom were blue. Has to be a hoax, right?

She’s going to talk about her researching journey and her book. I hope you enjoy this tale.

Book Synopsis:

A luminous narrative inspired by the fascinating real case of “the Blue People of Kentucky” that probes questions of identity, love, and family.

In 1937, there are recesses in Appalachia no outsiders have ever explored. Two government-sponsored documentarians from Cincinnati, Ohio—a writer and photographer—are dispatched to penetrate this wilderness and record what they find for President Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration. For photographer Clay Havens, the assignment is his last chance to reboot his flagging career. So when he and his journalist partner are warned away from the remote Spooklight Holler outside of town, they set off eagerly in search of a headline story.

What they see will haunt Clay into his old age: Jubilee Buford, a woman whose skin is a shocking and unmistakable shade of blue. From this happenstance meeting between a woman isolated from society and persecuted her whole life, and a man accustomed to keeping himself at lens distance from others, comes a mesmerizing story in which the dark shades of betrayal, prejudice, fear, and guilt, are refracted along with the incandescent hues of passion and courage.

Panning across the rich rural aesthetic of eastern Kentucky, The Last Blue is a captivating love story and an intimate portrait of what it is like to be truly one of a kind.

Please give Isla Morely a warm welcome.

“Hoax!” I thought. On my screen was a grainy, old-fashioned portrait of a family of nine people, five of whom were blue. Who believes anything on the internet these days? Had I not been so intent on avoiding the edits I was supposed to have completed on my current novel, I might have closed my laptop and returned to my manuscript, but instead, I took the bait. Click.

No, not hoax at all. The article featured a family who lived more 100 years ago in the wilderness of eastern Kentucky, not too far from Hardburly, who came to be known as “the blue people of Troublesome Creek” and who inspired my latest novel, The Last Blue. Yes, they were unmistakably and shockingly blue. The color of a bruised plum, according to some eye-witness accounts. I expected many to have written about it, but as I started to research, I found very little except a four-page article written by Cathy Trost, published in a now-defunct Science journal in 1982. Few knew about the blue people, arguably one of the most fascinating medical cases of all time.

The real-life account begins with Martin Fugate, a French orphan who immigrated to the United States and settled in Kentucky in 1820. He married and started a family, and soon starting having children who were born blue. Large families were typical in those days, and the Fugates, along with three or four other families, clustered in isolation from the rest of the world until those who were blue were not too uncommon.

From Cathy Trost’s account, blue people kept to themselves. Read between the lines and you get a sense of the stigmatizing, prejudice and social avoidance these families must have faced. Trost describes how a renowned hematologist from Lexington came to the area to investigate rumors of blue people, giving chase after spotting a blue person only to get to the top of the hill and discover they’d disappeared. Having given up, the doctor was preparing to return to the city when two blue people snuck into the local clinic. Keeping to the shadows of the hallway, the couple wanted his help. “You could tell how much it bothered them to be blue,” the doctor said, reporting the emotional pain he saw in their faces.

What especially caught my attention was a brief description near the end of the article about a man purportedly married to “the bluest woman who ever lived.” Though she had died many years prior, he refused to live anywhere but the log cabin he had built for her with his own hands, a stone’s throw from her grave. When asked about his wife’s peculiar coloring, he refused to acknowledge she’d been blue. If love is colorblind, surely this was a fine example. Instantly, I knew I would write a love story that explored the meaning of identity, belonging and what it is to be truly one of a kind, an undertaking that took me five years.

Besides investigating the medical condition and whether or not there were cures and treatments, I had to do a lot of research into the Great Depression. The deepest hollers of eastern Kentucky were also largely unexplored until roads were built in the hills, and though the region had been made famous by Daniel Boone and the Hatfields and McCoys, it had been plagued by stereotypes of mountain men, snake handlers and hillbillies. To this day, many stereotypes persist. The last thing I wanted to do was perpetuate those falsehoods.

Thanks to the contributions made by hundreds of writers and photographers employed by Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration in the Thirties, there is a trove of photographs, field notes, and audio recordings that bring to life a bygone era. But photographs tell only so much of the story, and often they too serve an agenda. What was left then for me to do but to dip the bucket of individual experience and corporate wisdom into the deep well of imagination? The Last Blue, entirely fiction, is the result I hope rings utterly true.

Can you believe it? Very fascinating, and I bet the novel is too.

You can view the book trailer below:

About the Author:

Isla Morley grew up in South Africa during apartheid, the child of a British father and fourth-generation South African mother. During the country’s State of Emergency, she graduated from Nelson Mandela University in Port Elizabeth with a degree in English Literature.

By 1994 she was one of the youngest magazine editors in South Africa, but left career, country and kin when she married an American and moved to California. For more than a decade she pursued a career in non-profit work, focusing on the needs of women and children.

Her debut novel, Come Sunday, won the Janet Heidinger Prize for fiction and was a finalist for the Commonwealth Prize. It has been translated into seven languages. Her novel, Above was an IndieNext Pick, a Best Buzz Book and a Publishers Weekly Best New Book. The Last Blue is her third novel.

She has lived in some of the most culturally diverse places of the world, including Johannesburg, London and Honolulu. Now in Los Angeles, she shares a home with her husband, daughter, three cats and five tortoises. Follow her on Facebook.