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Interview with Stephen Ord, author of Pemberley by Moonlight

What makes the Jane Austen-inspired fiction world so delicious? The imagination of its authors to take beloved characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy and place them in unusual situations.

Pemberley by Moonlight by Stephen Ord pushes that envelope further. I can’t wait for you to read my interview with him, but first check out the book:

WHAT HAS HAPPENED to Fitzwilliam Darcy?

IT HAS BEEN NEARLY A YEAR since the master of Pemberley disappeared, leaving behind his distraught young sister and a family in turmoil. But clues to his whereabouts are scarce and it soon seems there will be nothing to do but see Georgiana married and have him declared legally dead.

ELIZABETH BENNET, ON HOLIDAY with her aunt and uncle, visits Pemberley and soon finds herself drawn into the mystery of the missing gentleman. But what secrets are hidden within the gardens of Pemberley? And what is the strange attraction she feels towards the statue of the man she has never met?

Powerful forces want to keep them apart, but true love will overcome even the most fearsome evil.

Aren’t you just eager to read this one? I am. But let’s check out the interview with Stephen, but don’t forget to enter the giveaway.

Welcome, Stephen!

Hi Serena. Thank you for opening up your blog to me today.

When did you know you wanted to be a writer and who inspired you to take the plunge?

I think most people have a story within them, the issue often is that it becomes so known to them that they forget how special their voice is. I’m certain we can’t all be Jane Austen or Charles Dickens, but I love to read Pride and Prejudice and JAFF variations where people have put their own spin on them. Often the influences, life experiences, and even sources of fascination and inspiration come across in what the JAFF writers produce. It was from reading these stories during the first COVID-19 lockdown that I became inspired enough to contribute some of my own work.

Tell us a little bit about your novel, Pemberley by Moonlight?

Pemberley by Moonlight combines my fascination with Ancient Cultures with my love of JAFF. In common with many of my favorite books it has a feeling of wonder within it, as it’s not just based on a straightforward interaction between Elizabeth and Darcy.

In fact, it avoids much of the ‘old ground’ that we all know and love, but can quote by heart already, in favor of a new tale for our beloved couple.

What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

Pride and Prejudice, it has such strong voices within it and tells a tale of coming of age that many of us can identify with. Elizabeth suddenly has her horizons expanded and moves beyond her initial book-smart, but naïve, to something more aware and worldly. Many of us go through this exact journey as we ‘leave the nest’ and find the massive diversity of people in the wider world (and sadly learn not to take them all at face value at times).

The themes within the novel are still relevant today, which is simply amazing.

If you were to live in Jane Austen’s novels, which character would you be and why?

Knowing my personality, I would be someone’s (perhaps Darcy’s) estate manager —hardworking, organized and making a positive difference, but without taking center stage or craving undue attention, as my family comes first. I know that it would be fine form to admit that my disposition holds more common ground with Darcy than Collins, Bingley, Wickham, or Colonel Fitzwilliam, but I’m certain that I would be happier holding the pen, than fascinating the audience.

Offer one piece of writing advice that you wish someone had told you and one piece of writing advice you did receive that you found helpful.

My favorite advice received on writing (as part of the brilliant support I’ve had from Quills & Quartos) was to always do the research, because readers (especially JAFF readers) are clever and know the subject that they’re interested in very well.

If I could go back in time and offer one piece of advice to myself, it would be to write down every scene that comes to mind and make notes of all ideas, regardless of if the story is ready for them. It’s amazing how often those notes and scenes become something more.

Photographer Stephen Ord

When not writing Jane-Austen-inspired novels, what do you love to do? Any unique hobbies?

Living in Scotland I have on my bucket list to climb every Munro. A Munro is any of the 277 mountains in Scotland that are at least 3,000 feet high (approximately 914 meters). To those who do it, it is known as ‘Munro Bagging’ and climbing with my dogs and my camera has led to many excellent views and experiences.

When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day or include a couple of photos.

From my attempts to walk around Scotland whenever possible, I am often surrounded by photos I have taken. This helps me with my day job, when stuck at my desk, and when writing too as they inspire me.

Photographer Stephen Ord

What’s your next project? Any hints?

After such a long time stuck at home, I think many people need the escapism of books and stories. I would love to offer a unique Darcy to the world, still strong and moral, but with a greater dash of wonder. Perhaps I could bring him to Scotland and have Elizabeth emerge from our legends and folk tales to beguile him once more.

Thank you for your time, Stephen, and sharing those beautiful photos.

On my bucket list is visiting Ireland, England, Scotland, and Wales. These photos will have to tide me over until I get there.

Enter the Giveaway:

Commenters are eligible to win an ebook of Pemberley by Moonlight.

Leave a comment speculating on what forces are keeping our lovers apart!

One winner per blog stop. Winners will be selected one week after the blog tour ends. Open internationally.

About the Author:

Stephen Ord discovered Jane Austen during his teens, and then found the treasure trove of works inspired by her as he reached forty. Becoming part of the JAFF community inspired him to contribute his own stories, and now he doesn’t believe he can stop writing (and indeed, does not want to).

Stephen reads a lot of everything and has done so from early childhood. When he was around eight years old, he bought a book on unsolved mysteries. One of the mysteries was around the life and times of Lord Byron, and several of the others were around Ancient Egypt. This was the seed that grew into an ongoing fascination with Regency times, ancient cultures and mythology.

Stephen has read a lot on the cultures and histories of Britain, Rome, Ancient Greece
and Ancient Egypt (amongst others). These histories have joined works from Jane Austen, Lord Byron, Neil Gaiman, Terry Pratchett, and books of just about every other
genre, inside his rather active imagination. He knows it is time to write more when his
ears begin to whistle.

Stephen lives and works in Bonny Scotland, where his lovely wife and two kids keep his feet on the ground, while supporting him to have his head in the clouds on occasion too.

Interview: Francine Falk-Allen, author of No Spring Chicken

Today, I have a treat for my readers, an interview with author Francine Falk-Allen, who wrote No Spring Chicken: Stories and Advice from a Wild Handicapper on Aging and Disability. She’s going to share some tips for traveling and helping our loved ones who may be disabled or just appreciate an extra hand.

First, check out the synopsis of her book:

As we age, we all begin to have physical difficulties to contend with.

In No Spring Chicken, Francine Falk-Allen—a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability—offers her own take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor). The handbook is divided into three sections: Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls in several parts of the world; Part II addresses the adaptation people who love a handicapped or aging person could make in order to have a lighter, more mutually rewarding relationship with him or her, as well as advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding self-care, exercise, pain management, healthcare, and more; and Part III discusses the challenges, rewards and logistics of engaging with groups of people who share similar issues.

Accessible and wryly funny, No Spring Chicken is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life—whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.

Please give Francine Falk-Allen a warm welcome and enjoy our interview:

Tell us about your new book.

No Spring Chicken addresses what we all face eventually: aging and the physical difficulties that can ensue.

I’m a polio survivor who knows a thing or two about living with a disability, and offer my take on how to navigate the complications aging brings with equanimity (and a sense of humor).

Part I is a jaunt through accessible travel pleasures and pitfalls; Part II addresses the adaptations caregivers can make for a mutually rewarding relationship with their loved ones, plus advice for physically challenged and aging persons themselves regarding exercise, diet, pain management, mobility, care tips and more; and Part III discusses the rewards of engaging with support groups sharing similar issues, with a little activism and advocacy for good measure.

I’m told it’s accessible and wryly funny,and is a fun and informative guide to living your best and longest life―whatever your physical challenges, and whatever your age.

What inspired you to write it?

Well, again, I have a lifetime of experience to share about how to take care of oneself with a physical challenge, handicap or disability, and enjoy life as much as possible at the same time. I thought it would be useful to those facing the later years of life, or even younger people with a disability, or family and friends who are perhaps stumped about how to face their loved one’s challenges.

What is the one aspect that you hope readers learn from it?

I hope they take away that there is almost always something we can do to improve at least one aspect of our condition,if not many, and to keep functioning as best we can in order to enjoy whatever opportunities present themselves to us.

As family members age, what should we keep in mind?

That they are the same people they have always been with the same needs and desires, and they want to keep participating in life to the extent possible. Also, generally, aging people could use a little or even a lot of assistance, but most of us hate to ask, and only ask when it’s a dire necessity. There are exceptions of course, but most people I know prefer to be as independent as possible. So chipping in more than you used to without an air of “You should have asked me for help” or “Mom, you aren’t keeping your house clean enough anymore” is likely to be appreciated.

What adaptations should we make for our loved ones?

Ask what is most needed rather than assuming we know. Remember that walking can become more difficult and think about what you can do to make this accommodation. For instance, renting a mobility scooter for family outings or vacations can allow Grandma or Mom to participate fully. A friend surprised me with this on a vacation in Hawaii and it made all the difference; I had a much better time since I could not walk the long distance to the beach or even to the pool in the complex, and it was helpful when we went shopping as well.

You have traveled many places as someone living with a disability. What are your favorite places to travel?

Ooh, there are so many great places. I love Maui, Hawaii; Edinburgh, Scotland; New Orleans, LA; Butchart Gardens on Victoria Island, BC, Canada; Kilkenny, Ireland; New York City, NY; and of course, Paris, France.

What do you look for when deciding on a vacation spot?

My husband and I both like places with beautiful scenery, and/or perhaps some culture such as concerts,or music clubs. We sometimes go to museums as well, but find that we can only do a couple of hours of a museum before we start to feel overwhelmed. We also are very interested in history and the culture of the people in the area we visit, and we like places with very good restaurants. (I start to feel ill if we eat too much fast food or simple carbs.) We sometimes plan a trip in order to see friends or family, also. For getting around, there have to be paved walkways for my scooter, or we take a lot of cabs or rent a car. I cannot go for long walks, but like to go places where I can scoot around, and then get off the scooter and walk a bit and see things up close, or sit in a park or on a beach and read. Sometimes, I paint a watercolor, so I appreciate a really nice view.

With regard to lodging, my first priority is that the hotel is easy and either has an elevator or is one-story, since stairs are very difficult for me, and also has food service in case I’m too tired to go out. Next would be that if there is not a restaurant in the hotel, there is one next door! And I always try for a place with a warm accessible pool if possible. I always call ahead to make sure the staff does not put us down a long hallway, because then sometimes I may be able to go to the lobby or restaurant without needing to use my mobility scooter.

Share some of your favorite self-care tips.

I do a little yoga and core strengthening every single morning, and I do pool therapy a few days a week. Stretching and keeping up what strength you have is important in order to stay mobile. I also avoid eating large amounts of simple carbohydrates (basically, white foods!) but I do try to eat a large amount of vegetables! It’s important to keep weight down, or to at least not become obese, to avoid or keep in check joint pain, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. And of course all that helps just to assist yourself in feeling great so that you have a positive attitude. Also, I rest regularly, and sometimes take a little nap, and get at least six or seven hours sleep every night. I think meals or tea dates with friends, reading good books, watching inspiring movies and spending time outdoors are also great ways to reduce stress and increase a feeling of peace and well being.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to be an activist?

Look for others who are already activists in the issues you care about. Someone has probably already got a group going and would love your participation and assistance and perhaps your knowledge and experience. If you can’t find that, you can start a group; I describe how to do that in my book. If you are housebound, you can research on a computer and stay informed with news on PBS and other reliable channels, and there are websites you can access which recommend what actions you can take, such as signing petitions or donating money, or making phone calls. Some groups will continue meeting on Zoom now that that is established. I am on an Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility committee in my town, which has met via Zoom during the pandemic, and I started a polio support group some years ago.

Anything else you would like to add?

I truly hope people will buy and enjoy No Spring Chicken, or ask for it at their local library, and suggest it to their friends and family. If they do, it’s helpful to the success of any book, especially for someone who is not a celebrity author, to leave a very good rating or review on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, or Walmart’s book review pages. Do remember that anything less than four or five stars is considered poor, though, by the algorithms that run those sites.

Even if people don’t read either of my books (my first book was Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability—A Memoir, about growing up with a disability and navigating the world as a women with a disability), I hope that everyone who has physical difficulty is finding ways to keep on enjoying life! That’s what I’m intending to do. Later this year, we’re hoping to visit someplace like Hawaii or New Mexico, where there is a high number of vaccinated people and a low incidence of the COVID-19 virus. Happy trails to all!

Thank you, Francine, for sharing your travel tips and for writing a great resource for others.

About the Author:

Francine Falk-Allen was born in Los Angeles and has lived nearly all of her life in Northern California. A former art major with a BA in managerial accounting who ran her own business for thirty-three years, she has always craved creative outlets. This has taken the form of singing and recording with various groups, painting, and writing songs, poetry, and essays, some of which have been published.

Falk-Allen facilitates Polio Survivors of Marin County and Just Write Marin County (a Meetup writing group), and is a volunteer member of the San Rafael City ADA Accessibility Committee.

Her first book, Not a Poster Child: Living Well with a Disability: A Memoir has been included on several national outlets’ lists of best books of 2018, including Kirkus Reviews, BuzzFeed, and PopSugar, and received a gold medal from Living Now Book Awards for Inspiring Memoir – Female and a silver medal from Sarton Women’s Book Awards for memoir.

She was also named one of “25 Women Making a Difference in 2019” by Conversations Magazine. She loves the outdoors, gardening, pool exercise, her sweet, peculiar old cat, spending time with her husband and good friends, strong British tea, and a little champagne now and then.

Interview with Daniel James Brown, author of Facing the Mountain

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War by Daniel James Brown was published last month, and a commemorative stamp for these heroes has been issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

If you’re a stamp collector, like I am, this is one you’ll want to add to your collection.

If you love historical fiction and nonfiction about WWII, this is a book you don’t want to miss.

Here’s a little bit about the book before we get to the interview:

They came from across the continent and Hawaii. Their parents taught them to embrace both their Japanese heritage and the ways of America. They faced bigotry, yet they believed in their bright futures as American citizens. But within days of Pearl Harbor, the FBI was ransacking their houses and locking up their fathers. And within months many would themselves be living behind barbed wire.

Facing the Mountain is an unforgettable chronicle of war-time America and the battlefields of Europe. Based on Daniel James Brown’s extensive interviews with the families of the protagonists as well as deep archival research, it portrays the kaleidoscopic journey of four Japanese-American families and their sons, who volunteered for 442nd Regimental Combat Team and were deployed to France, Germany, and Italy, where they were asked to do the near impossible.

But this is more than a war story. Brown also tells the story of these soldiers’ parents, immigrants who were forced to shutter the businesses, surrender their homes, and submit to life in concentration camps on U.S. soil. Woven throughout is the chronicle of a brave young man, one of a cadre of patriotic resisters who stood up against their government in defense of their own rights. Whether fighting on battlefields or in courtrooms, these were Americans under unprecedented strain, doing what Americans do best–striving, resisting, pushing back, rising up, standing on principle, laying down their lives, and enduring.

Please give Daniel James Brown a warm welcome:

Facing the Mountain is about a topic that isn’t often written about, taught, and told in the U.S. What piqued your interest in the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two?

The Japanese American experience during World War Two has, in many ways, been over-simplified in history books and in the popular imagination, reduced to a single, stark storyline centered on the forced removal of thousands of families from their homes and their incarceration in camps. That is, of course, a central part of what occurred, but there is much more to the story than that,and it’s something I have always wanted to know more about. My father worked in the flower business in the Bay Area when I was growing up, and many of his customers and colleagues were Japanese American nurserymen and florists. He was also an unusually soft-spoken and gentle man. I almost never saw him visibly angry at anyone. The one exception was whenever he talked about what had happened to his Japanese American customers and close friends during the war, a subject that would inevitably quickly reduce him to rage. So, I was naturally interested when Tom Ikeda started sharing some of his oral histories with me and I began to see the dimensions of a story that went far beyond what I had previously understood about the Japanese American experience during these years.

Facing the Mountain follows four Japanese American families and their sons—Gordon Hirabayashi, Rudy Tokiwa, Fred Shiosaki, and Kats Miho. How did you choose these four to write about when there are so many others? Were any of them alive for you to speak with? Did you talk with their families?

On the one hand, I wanted to tell the big, sweeping story of two generations of Japanese Americans, and yet at the same time, I wanted the book to be focused on the personal experiences of a relatively small cast of characters that readers could easily relate to. I wanted some geographical balance, so the story unfolded primarily in the Pacific Northwest, in California, and in Hawaii. I also needed to find individuals who had left behind plenty of documentation of their experiences and who had living family members interested in helping to unveil their stories. So, with a lot of help from Tom Ikeda and his team at Densho, I eventually settled on four young men (and their families) whose stories pretty much encompassed the range of experiences of both the Nisei and the Issei generations on the mainland and in Hawaii. At the time I started working on the project, only Fred Shiosaki was still alive, and I spent a lot of time talking to Fred, with the help of his son, Michael. The family members of most of the other people in the book—not just the four principal protagonists—were also very forthcoming and helpful in fleshing out the oral histories from which I was primarily working.

Three of the men you focused on joined the military,but Gordon was a resister. Why is it important to share his story?

Japanese Americans, like all Americans, are not now and were not then, a monolith, and their opinions and attitudes about their experiences during the war years varied widely. Individuals and families reacted in different ways to the mountain of problems that suddenly stood in their way beginning with the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Some felt obliged to submit quietly to the authorities and dutifully go off to live in the camps. Some bitterly resented their incarceration and the loss of their livelihoods. Some young men volunteered for military service as soon as they were allowed to do so, believing it would prove their loyalty to the United States.

Others vigorously opposed service so long as their families were incarcerated. Gordon Hirabayashi was a particularly thoughtful advocate for resisting both the incarcerations and military service, so I felt it was vitally important to balance the stories of military valor with his story of principled resistance. I also wanted to demonstrate that there are different dimensions to courage—that courage on the battlefield and courage in the courtroom may both be virtues worth celebrating, even when they may seem to be in conflict with one another.

Much like The Boys in the Boat, Facing the Mountain must have taken extensive research before writing. Can you speak to the research that went into this book and was there anything while researching that really surprised you?

Indeed. I spent about a year and a half researching various aspects of the story before writing a single word of the manuscript. I listened to countless hours of oral histories, traveled to meet family members, toured battlefields in Europe, read World War Two histories, and spent many, many hours in archives poring over old letters and microfilm of newspapers from the 1940s—all the usual stuff. But in the end,it was a very close study of the recorded oral histories left behind by my four protagonists and talking to those who knew them that was most important. There were many surprises along the way, but I think in the end the thing that really stunned me was just how courageous, earnest, and good hearted all four of my protagonists were, even as they differed enormously in many more superficial ways.

Thank you for bringing this part of history to the forefront.

About the Author:

Daniel James Brown is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat, The Indifferent Stars Above, and Under a Flaming Sky. He has taught writing at San Jose State University and Stanford University. He lives outside Seattle. Visit DanielJamesBrown.com.

Foreword Author:

Tom Ikeda, who has written the foreword, is executive director of Densho, a Seattle-based non-profit dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing Japanese American history and promoting social justice and equity.

Interview with Mary Anne Mushatt, author of For the Deepest Love

We have a great interview today from Mary Anne Mushatt. But before we get to that Pride & Prejudice lovers, check out this blurb of her new book, For the Deepest Love:

“After thinking long and hard, I have come to the conclusion that—although it may not be the kind of love my sister and I once had in mind—marrying Mr Darcy would be marrying for a love of the deepest kind.”

Recovering from their parents’ deaths, Elizabeth and Jane Bennet have held their family together, leaning on the support of their uncle, Edward Gardiner, to help them survive. Thus, when Mr Gardiner is threatened with scandal and ruin, Elizabeth vows to help him. Hearing of her distress, the scandalous Fitzwilliam Darcy enters her life—offering his aid in exchange for her hand.

Accepting his proposal upends her life in unimaginable ways as she learns of the treachery of the peer courting her, the betrayal and violence committed by her childhood friend, and the threat to her country as it faces another war.

As Elizabeth and Darcy face the turmoil and trials swirling around them, they risk opening their hearts to unexpected passion. In order to survive challenges from without and fears within, they must summon unknown strengths and forge new bonds to solidify a love of the deepest kind.

Please welcome, Mary, to the blog:

Hi Serena,

Thank you so much for having me here today, and thank you for supporting For The Deepest Love.

1. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and who inspired you to take the plunge?

I believe I began writing when my father got sick with colon cancer in my junior year in high school, then died in my freshman year of college. It was a dark period in my life, where a lot of men in my family passed, and I was rather lost. After college, I moved to New York City, studied acting at the Lee Strasberg Theater Institute to learn what actors needed in a script. At that time, I was writing plays while working at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. When they departed for Duluth, Minnesota, I worked odd jobs in NYC, living a bohemian life in the East Village.

Real life caught up with me and, after a decade, I moved to New Orleans, but all the while keeping journals to record my flights of fancy. I started ‘seriously’ writing in 2006, when exiled from my home. I would drop off my two sons and niece at their schools, head to a coffee shop and write for hours. This was an enchanting time for me, because I felt I could leave the outer reality and enter the world living on the pages of my notebook. When I found Austen fanfiction, I was hooked, somehow feeling these characters, in this particular time period, were my writing home.

2. Tell us a little bit about your first novel, Darcy and the Duchess?

Once I discovered Pride and Prejudice, admittedly very late in my life, I was spellbound by it and the abundant stories accessible through the internet. One genre that particularly held me enthralled was where Elizabeth had a previous marriage that elevated her status. Perhaps I wanted to give her equal footing to Darcy, or independence from her parents. I wanted her to have a loving relationship, but as her husband is ill when they meet, there is no potential for them to have the intimate bond that I believe links Darcy and Elizabeth.

To be completely honest, I believe what I truly love about this plot line is that Elizabeth has the status to back up her sass. As a duchess her intelligence and impertinence are accepted and, in many ways, she is freed from the constraints placed upon Elizabeth of Longbourn. Of course, there are other constraints imposed by her status, but she comes to Darcy with a breadth of experience of her own.

3. How has writing your subsequent books, Taken and For the Deepest Love, differed from your experience in writing the first one?

Taken is one of my favorite stories, if a writer allowed to have one. I remember writing it incessantly. There are parts that made me cry when I began editing it for publication. I wrote it nearly a decade ago, but revisiting it was a joy. In terms of writing, let me backtrack. All three of these books were written a number of years ago, and each taught me how to expand characters, scenes and write dialogue that felt like real people might speak—not that I claim to know how 19th century Regency folks really spoke. What has markedly improved is what my editors have taught me.

How to tighten scenes without losing the essence of what propels the story forward. How to highlight details to create atmosphere rather than elaborate and down the scene with them.

From then to now, I feel I am a better writer. I’ve learned how to trust the first draft, to write and write and not care if I say something three times in a scene, knowing I will winnow it back to the best version. I’ve learned when to listen to my cold readers, betas, and editors and when to stand up for my choices and intent. And maybe what is most important, at least to me, is to allow myself to follow plot lines that appeal to me, and not worry they may not please anyone else. Because, even if they don’t, they have something to teach me.

4. What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

Pride and Prejudice, hands down. I was flying from New Orleans to Boston and had laid hands on a copy for my vacation read. I read it through to the last page Then turned back to the beginning and read it again, and again, and again. I read it in the car from Boston to Cape Cod even though I get carsick when I read. I read it over and over again throughout my vacation and even when I got home.

Now, as to why, that may be harder to pinpoint. Miss Austen has a fine ear for the nuances of dialogue, gestures, and the intimate—and often delicate—nature of relationships between young women, their families, and the world. Take the Bennets. We are given their characters, their strengths, and their foibles as warp strands that Miss Austen then weaves into remarkable tapestries by the experiences and adventures, actions and reactions of their day-to-day lives.

And then, of course, there is Mr. Darcy. Need I say more? What I adore about him is, that despite the hubris inculcated in him by his social position, he is a decent, responsible man, who has the inner strength to change to become a better man. What’s not to love? Oh, and did I mention he’s tall, dark, and handsome?

5. If you were to live in Jane Austen’s novels, which character would you be and why?

Elizabeth Bennet. Of course. For me, she has the most freedom. While Jane Bennet is admired for her beauty, it is a burden as well. Her mother imposes the salvation of their family on Jane’s shoulders. She is to marry a wealthy man and establish her sisters, and of course keep Mrs. B from the hedgerows.

Elizabeth, however, has the education to see and think beyond her little hamlet. While her time and social station limit her, she is the free-est from the inner limits the condescension of rank may impose on others. She evaluates—dare I say judges? —people by their characters and how they treat others, and this is a quality to emulate.

6. Offer one piece of writing advice that you wish someone had told you and one piece of writing advice you did receive that you found helpful.

The piece of advice I received that has helped me the most is to just write. Don’t judge or edit the first version, just start writing and get the ideas on paper. You will go back and revise later. For me, it is crucial to just start and get the words rolling.

What I wish someone had told me is to let my imagination run uncensored. It builds on what I just said, but that was for the actual writing process. What I’m talking about is to let the plot flow where it wants to go. To trust it to create its own links so it ties together, however loosely, at the end. While it’s great to have an outline—and I have worked with them—there comes a point where is ok to break free and let a subplot grow.

A second piece of advice—I wish I had learned earlier is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. I try and make a scene, a chapter, and a story as honest, interesting, and polished as I can, but I’m still learning, and next time I’ll do better.

7. When not writing Jane-Austen-inspired novels, what do you love to do? Any unique hobbies?

I love being in my garden. I often find story lines or characters develop while tending my flowers. Living in New Orleans, we have a collection of Mardi Gras beads, and I’ve taken to hot gluing them on wooden eggs to create Easter eggs, or cones to make Christmas trees. I use the translucent beads of the traditional green,
gold/yellow or purple, but the krews now throw pinks, blues and orange beads so my ‘palette.’ I’m going to try gluing them on to glass vases, hoping to create a stained-glass effect.

In one of my subsequent stories, one of the subplots involves human trafficking. While working on it, I realized that if my fictional Elizabeth could do something about trafficking, so could I. Fortunately, New Orleans has an active anti-trafficking network, and now I help bring awareness that trafficking is happening right under our noses to the general public.

8. When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day, or include a couple of photos.

When my kids were in school, I would write at our dining table. During the pandemic when both my ‘boys’—one now, as of May 20 th a college graduate, and the other a freshman at university—were home, I took a small table, plucked it down in front of one of our French-door windows in the front room, out of the way, and wrote for a couple of hours in the morning. The window looks out to our garden, and tall stalks of ginger grew in front of the window. They blocked the strong Southern sun, and when I was stuck, there was always a little lizard or butterfly to distract me.

While writing spaces are important, mainly in terms of letting my family members not to disturb me, it is more my supplies. In the last 5 to 7 years or so, I have discovered a fascination for fountain pens, and now, that is what I prefer to write with. That and notebooks. There is something about the shape of the pen nib scratching across the paper that is soothing to me, maybe because my stories are set in Regency England, but I feel it makes something undefinable, accessible to me. Whatever it is, it helps me shut out the present, turning inward where my stories find me.

9. What’s your next project? Any hints?

While I’ve started another Regency story, I’m working up to starting a story set in
the 1930’s.

Thank you, Mary. We can’t wait to read For the Deepest Love.

About the Author:

A lifelong writer, Mary Anne Mushatt relocated to New Orleans last century, where she earned an MFA and created a documentary of oral histories in the African-American and Native American communities along Louisiana’s River Road. When the levees failed, exiling her family from their home, she discovered the community of Jane Austen acolytes and began writing novels placing the beloved characters of Pride & Prejudice in innovative situations. Taken is her second published novel. As a result of one of her earlier novels, she works with a multi-disciplinary team aiding victims of human trafficking become survivors.

Mary Anne lives in New Orleans with her husband, two sons, and two dogs.

Follow the blog tour and leave comments and be entered into the giveaway:

The blog tour wraps up on June 8. Winners will be chosen on June 8, 2021. The winners will be posted on the Quills and Quartos Facebook and Instagram pages.

Interview with Poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, Author of a more perfect Union

I am excited to share with you my interview with local poet Teri Ellen Cross Davis, author of the poetry collection a more perfect Union and Poetry Coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C.

About the collection:

In the tender, sensual, and bracing poems of a more perfect Union, Teri Ellen Cross Davis reclaims the experience of living and mothering while Black in contemporary America, centering Black women’s pleasure by wresting it away from the relentless commodification of the White gaze. Cross Davis deploys stunning emotional range to uplift the mundane, interrogate the status quo, and ultimately create her own goddesses. Parenting, lust, household chores—all are fair game for Cross Davis’s gimlet eye. Whether honoring her grief for Prince’s passing while examining his role in midwifing her sexual awakening or contemplating travel and the gamble of being Black across this wide world, these poems tirelessly seek a path out of the labyrinth to hope.

Stay tuned for some video readings and more upcoming events with Teri (virtual and in person).

Please give Teri a warm welcome:

Savvy Verse & Wit: What is your earliest memory of poetry? Was it read to you? Did you write it? Did someone gift you a book of poems?

Teri Ellen Cross Davis: My earliest memory of poetry is less memory and more fact. My mother taught me to read to Nikki Giovanni’s work. She would read it to me – I was four. I remember the hard cover, tan and coarse, not the paper jacket, she’d taken that off and stashed it away somewhere probably like I do now with my children.

SVW: Can you recall the first poem you wrote and what it was about?

TCD: My first poem was in third grade. I was eight and it was about a squirrel. I sat in my living room and watched the squirrel from the safety of my house. The squirrel was running around the base of a wide oak tree in our backyard, right at the perimeter of a fence that separated our yard from the neighbor behind us. What I love about thinking about this is that my family just gave me that quiet time to sit there and watch that squirrel– no one demanded anything of me, I was just allowed that time and I discovered a poem.

SVW: Did you mimic someone else’s style? And how have you evolved in your poetic skills since then? Speak a little bit about your writing journey.

TCD: My writing journey is a long one. My mother gave me Maya Angelou I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings at 12 at the same time she gave me Carlos Castaneda The Teachings Of Don Juan. Both blew my mind. I also came across my mother’s college poetry books, so Dudley Randall’s The Black Poets and an Oxford Edition of Modern Verse, which led me to Edna St. Vincent Millay and Robert Frost.

In high school, my English teacher gave me Ntozake Shange’s For the Colored Girls Who Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf and by then I had also started a poetry club inspired by my love of Edna Saint Vincent Millay. I continued reading poetry on my own and by college I felt confident/bold/reckless enough to read my poems aloud to an audience.

But it was at Cave Canem in 1999, which was also the first year I had a poem accepted for publication, that I truly laid claim to being a poet. And I will say that running a poetry series for 16 years has definitely had an effect on my voice and ability. I have brought in so many poets who range in terms of their style and to see that this variety exists lets me know that I have a place somewhere within this whole cannon.

SVW: As the poetry coordinator for the Folger Shakespeare Library, what’s your role and how does that work fit into the poetic culture of the D.C. region?

TCD: I select the poets and themes for the reading and themes for the overall seasons. I write up most of the material for marketing and remain the primary contact for the poets. I love using themes and collaborating with different organizations as I see these actions as ways for me to open up poetry and poets to a new audience.

In terms of how it fits within the poetic culture of the D.C. region, we occupy a national profile but on a local level. I try to involve local poets in introducing and moderating conversations with the poets but I also involve local poets as readers too. Taylor Johnson and Michael Collier are examples from this past season and I often rely on local poets for “Not Just Another Day Off” the Martin Luther King programming that I do at the Folger. And the series has history! I am coordinating the 53 rd continual season and am excited to continue adding the Folger’s tradition of bringing emerging and established poets to the actual or virtual stage.

SVW: In your new collection, a more perfect Union, music (especially Prince) plays a large role in your poems, why was it important for you to include Prince and others in your collection, exalting them like gods and goddesses?

TCD: Mainly because the influence of Prince on my work and in my life is like that of a God. His voice is in my head, his lyrics are the ones that I’ve committed to memory, and his music- it just makes my body move and touches my spirit. I think music is an incredible way to communicate to others, whether it’s about social issues, breakups, falling in love, having a child, like poetry, music just occupies this aural space and I want to honor that. I honestly listen to music every day. I like to think that somewhere inside me lurks a singer/songwriter!

Teri Ellen Cross Davis reads The Goddess of Cleaning:

SVW: Why is it important for poets to explore the new and old gods and goddesses? Your poems are infused with pop culture and the old world. How does this blending help readers see that the “more perfect union” is possible?

TCD: I’ve often chafed at the idea of fitting into any one category. I recognize that who I am is a layering of the old and the new, the high and the low, the avant guard and the mainstream and there’s nothing wrong with that. I try not to hold anyone element of that in higher esteem than the other.

I love letting my diction soar like a kid on the swings who then jumps off and hits the dirt. It’s so much fun to mix it all up and I think once we can let go of these ideas that we have to remain rigidly fixed into any one category and that we can’t respect the others, once we let that go, we can become fully realized people who can honor, respect, and acknowledge all of it. I loved my time with my great aunts and my grandparents and I loved my time in college hanging out and going to Freaknik.

I can be both of those people. Why can’t we all see the beauty in the old world- recognize the traditions and knowledge in those old gods- but also take in with fresh eyes and open hearts the new gods as they pop up? In such openness we stay fresh, we stay absorbent, and we continue to learn.

SVW: The book cover is as sensual as the poems inside. Is this collection a love letter and to whom?

TCD: Thank you for that! In many ways this collection is a love letter to the idea of America; an America that we haven’t seen rise to its full potential in terms of equality and freedom for everyone.

But it’s also a love letter to the American citizen, to the human being, who sees something greater in this country and knows how deeply it is flawed in its failings to live up to the ideals it presents to the rest of the world.

I just want to tell people “I see you and I feel the same way you do”- the frustration, the rage, the sadness, the disappointment and that perhaps together we can enact the change that we want to see and not wait on others to do it but at the same time I recognize that there are those in power who need to understand that so many of us have a righteous rage regarding this country and it needs to be acknowledged and we need to be heard. So this book is my barbaric yawp.

Thank you, Teri, for your candid answers, and I cannot wait to hear you read live in person.

Here’s a treat for my readers, a YouTube readings, and a list of upcoming readings on her schedule:

Poets in conversation feature on Politics and Prose Live! With Teri Ellen Cross Davis and Sandra Beasley:

About the Poet:

Teri Ellen Cross Davis is the author of a more perfect Union, 2019 winner of The Journal/Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize and Haint  winner of the 2017 Ohioana Book Award for Poetry. She’s a Cave Canem fellow, member of the Black Ladies Brunch Collective, and lives in Maryland.

If you are in the areas or online, check out her upcoming events:

Interview with Karen Lyon, columnist at Hill Rag and founder of The Literary Hill BookFest

When: May 2, 2021,  at 11:00 a.m. Where: Online

The Literary Hill BookFest is going to be virtual again this year on Sunday, May 2, at 11:00 a.m.

Since you won’t have to travel to Washington D.C., why not begin your day with some fiction writers, poets, and children’s authors.

I’m very excited to be part of this event for the first time as part of Poets on the Patio. View my recording here and stay tuned on May 2 at 1:45 p.m. for my appearance.

Today’s guest is Karen Lyon who writes the column Literary Hill at Hill Rag.

We’ll be talking with her about her love of books and the festival. Please give Karen a warm welcome.

Savvy Verse & Wit: After writing your column in The Hill Rag for a decade, what prompted you to consider transporting that content into a live event for the D.C. area given the number of festivals already available, including the Maryland-based Gaithersburg Book Festival, Fall for the Book at George Mason University in Virginia, and the National Book Festival in D.C.?

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2016

Karen Lyon: Actually, I got talked into it by some friends who thought that Capitol Hill needed its own book festival. There are so many writers who live on the Hill, whether drawn here to do research at the Library of Congress or just because they find it a rich and beautiful neighborhood. Evidence the fact that, in the 20 years I’ve been doing my column, which now features 2-4 reviews per month, I’ve never been in danger of running out of authors.

And it’s really nice to bring them together once a year so they can meet each other, as well as attracting potential readers. Many of the writers have told me how much they enjoy the live event and how special it is that it’s a neighborhood affair. They’re all very eager to get back to meeting in person.

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie from Literary Hill BookFest 2017

SVW: Tell us about your favorite childhood book and/or when you met your favorite author for the first time. What were your feelings? What do you remember the most about that and did you have those memories in mind when drafting plans for the first BookFest?

KL: I loved mystery novels as a kid—still do—so when I first approached Melissa Ashabranner about doing something for the Hill Rag and, in the course of our talk, she told me that the great Martha Grimes lived on the Hill, I was absolutely beside myself.

At that point, of course, I was far too intimidated to interview her in person, so I faxed her questions (back in the low-tech days) and she graciously faxed her answers back to me.

My first in-person interview was with the also great Louis Bayard, who, in addition to being a fabulous writer, is one of the kindest, funniest, and most generous guys you’ll ever meet. He gave me the confidence to keep at it—and eventually I did meet and interview Ms. Grimes, as well as many other well-known writers who lived here at the time.

Now I confine myself to book reviews rather than the labor-intensive interviews. Alas, Martha Grimes no longer lives on Capitol Hill (and, hooray, Lou Bayard now serves on the BookFest board!).

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2019 (Jona Colson)

SVW: What have been some of your favorite memories from the live, in-person Literary Hill BookFests?

KL: It’s not exactly a favorite, but I think one of my most vivid memories is from the first year, which, as you can imagine, was fraught. None of us knew what we were doing and it made for many sleepness nights (and the occasional “good cry”). My husband Ed and I were both working full time then and trying to fit “BookFest” in here and there—just as Liz and her husband Dan are doing this year, so we appreciate the enormous effort it takes.

I lost almost eight pounds, both from the physical labor as well as the stress. I remember as we were closing down the event that day, I was stumbling around like a zombie looking for trash to pick up when one of the writers came up to me, all perky and enthusiastic, and said, “This was great! You’re going to do it again next year, right?” Uh…

Nevertheless we persisted—and over time, we figured more things out and got more people to help us, so we were able to relax (sort of, not really) and enjoy many rewarding moments.

Getting to meet the authors whom I feel I already know through their books–and seeing their faces light up when I introduce myself–has to be one of the most gratifying things ever. Being able to give local writers a venue and help publicize their work is what keeps me going.

SVW: As many other festivals were forced to do, Literary Hill BookFest went virtual in 2020, what do you think made the festival stand out from other festivals that went virtual that year? What were some lessons learned from that experience that you’re applying to this year’s festival?

KL: I have to confess that I didn’t check out the competition, but I thought Liz and Dan did an absolutely superb job of showcasing our Hill authors.

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2018 (Ethelbert Miller)

The panel discussion, poetry reading, and everything else about the event—including the ukulele interlude—just blew me away.

My technical skills are pretty much limited to word processing, so I never in a million years could have done it. In fact, even once we do get back to an in-person event, I see their amazing website as being a continuing and very important component of the BookFest.

It allows for more intimate presentations by the authors as well as a much broader scope of visitors, who can access it from wherever they are and well beyond a three-hour window in May.

SVW: What are you most looking forward to at this year’s virtual Literary Hill BookFest?

KL: I think our discussion topics this year are particularly ripe for some interesting commentary. I can’t wait to hear what our authors have to say about how children’s literature can dismantle divisions, how they find literary inspiration in D.C., and how nonfiction can tackle social issues. Those alone should make for some fascinating discussions, but we’ve also got a nature writing workshop and one on what makes a great opening line, as well as the always popular live poetry reading.

It’s going to be another great day for books and authors on Capitol Hill—and, thanks to technology, everywhere else as well. It’s wonderful to be able to invite friends and family from around the country to tune it.

We may even get a woman from my Zoom exercise class who lives in Croatia!

Photo Credit: Bruce Guthrie; Literary Hill BookFest 2014

Thank you, Karen, for agreeing to an interview. I can’t wait to see everyone there (online)!

About the Columnist and Founder:

Karen Lyon writes the Literary Hill column for the Hill Rag and served as president of the Literary Hill BookFest in its initial years. She formerly worked at the Folger Shakespeare Library as assistant to the director and as a writer for Folger Magazine specializing in articles about everyday life in Shakespeare’s time.

Interview: Caroline Bock, fiction editor of This Is What America Looks Like

This Is What America Looks Like, edited by Caroline Bock and Jona Colson, has been the talk of the Washington, D.C., area, with a number of readings and launch events.

The April 21 online event at the Enoch Pratt Library was a fantastic discussion about the creative state of our nation. I’ve even read my poem from the collection with The Inner Loop.

Today, I want to share with you an interview with fiction editor Caroline Bock.

Savvy Verse & Wit: Congratulations on the new anthology, This Is What America Looks Like, published by the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, which is the first one they’ve published in decades. They also published your debut short story collection, Carry Her Home. How did you decide where you wanted the anthology to be published? Were there any other publishers you considered?

Caroline Bock:  I only considered The Washington Writers’ Publishing House – it was established in 1975 as a ‘hippie poetry collective’ (their description, not mine!), and it’s an all-volunteer, cooperative press dedicated to  publishing poetry and literary fiction.

SVW: As the fiction editor for the anthology, how much coordination was there with poetry editor Jona Colson? Did you both have a game plan in mind before submissions started rolling in or were their themes that emerged on their own as submissions were being read?

CB: I originally envisioned this as only a fiction collection until Jona raised his hand in a WWPH meeting and asked: “Could there be room for poetry? I’m happy to volunteer as the poetry editor.” And my reply was, “There’s always room for poetry!”

Now, I knew Jona well – his beautiful poetry collection, “Said Through Glass,” was the 2018 Jean Feldman Poetry award-winner the same year that I won the Fiction Award from WWPH.

I had come up with the general theme based on the Women’s Marches that I attended in DC – a literary response to the chant: what does America look like? However, as the pandemic closed in on us last March alongside an Administration in D.C. that seem to trump up more and more lies designed to divide us, as the Black Lives Matter movement became more urgent, as our racial and economic divides were exposed—the literary response became more critical. We increased the number of writers from 50 to 100.

We reached out to writers of color to ensure as diverse and inclusive anthology as possible. We looked for the political in the personal and deeply felt responses we received to This Is What America Looks Like, and we realized that we didn’t need the political—that the personal told the story.

SVW: How did you view your role as an editor of the anthology? Let us in on what your process was when selecting the fiction pieces. Did you have any criteria you followed specifically from the start? Were there criteria that evolved over the submissions process?

CB: We received over 500 submissions, and I read everyone, sometimes more than once along with Kathleen Wheaton, our publisher.

I love fiction that either dives deeply into a moment and/or takes chances – so “Smaller” by M.M. Bailey, which dives into the anger of the pandemic via a violent cough gripped me. On the other hand, Michelle Brafman’s ‘I Am Your Mask,” from the point of view of a mask, gave me, and I hope gives readers, a different perspective on the pandemic.

I looked for fiction that spoke to the moment that we are in now in America – but then, there were a few stories that so gripped me about the past. This was the case with the opening story by Mary Kay Zuravleff entitled “Myrna, 1934” – it’s set in the Depression, but this story of a struggling family so resonated to this struggling moment, I included it.

SVW: This Is What America Looks Like provides a very broad landscape in how writers could approach the topic, but how would you describe what America looks like? Does America’s description merely entail its mountains and landscapes or is it about the people within it?

CB: Based on this astonishing collection, I have questions and I have hope for the American people.

Here are some of the questions: Do we recognize that the unnamed, code-switching, bilingual narrator in Ofelia Montelongo’s wondrous story “Botones” is as critical to our society as the tough-talking waitress in Danielle Stonehirsch’s story “The Waffle House”? Do we recognize the anger in Amy Freeman’s “Spiralling” about the political moment or Christopher J. Gregg’s inventive “What I Read Between The Line or A Prose Erasure Of ‘Executive Order on Building and Rebuilding Monuments To American Heroes” or in Shelby Settles Harper’s “Colonize These Thighs,” as a sign that we must choose a new path forward? I think so. I am filled with hope after working on this collection. I hope readers will feel that way too!

SVW: Thinking about the writers in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) region, how would you describe their writing styles and overall view as presented in their stories? Is there something that readers could immediately recognize as fiction from this region?

CB: There’s a heightened awareness of ‘power’ in the writing I saw in the DMV—who has it and who doesn’t.

For example, Gariné Isassi wrote in her sharply-drawn story, “In Lieu of Graduation 2020,” a mother and a daughter stumble on immigration detainees in a field in Montgomery County; her story is essentially about power the government has over these people’s lives. Willie Conley’s “Labels” writes about the power or control the healthcare system can have our very identities. On other hand, the landscape of the Capital becomes a character, exerting power over the narrator in Leslie Pietrzyk’s “Admit This To No One.”

SVW: What has been your fondest memory of your writing journey so far? And what’s next for you?

CB: I always thought I would be a short story writer or a novelist or a screenwriter, or all three. But I took a twenty years detour into corporate America. So, I’m grateful that my ‘second act’ is as a writer—I’m still in the middle of it, so I don’t have a ‘fondest’ memory yet.

This past year, I’ve been working on a new novel, which centers on the power, so perhaps, I am truly a DMV writer these days too. I hope this novel will be my first for adults—so stay tuned!

Thank you, Caroline, for stopping by the blog today to talk about This Is What America Looks Like.

Copies of the anthology, This Is What America Looks Like: Poetry & Fiction from DC, Maryland and Virginia can be purchased at www.washingtonwriters.org or at your favorite etailer.

Also note that the 2022 Washington Writers’ Publishing House prizes in fiction and poetry will open for submissions on July 1-November 15th . More information can also be found at www.washingtonwriters.org

About the Editor:

Caroline Bock writes short stories, novels, and more. She is the author of CARRY HER HOME, winner of the 2018 Fiction Award from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House, and the young adult novels: LIE and BEFORE MY EYES from St. Martin’s Press.

In 2021, she is the fiction editor of THIS IS WHAT AMERICA LOOKS LIKE, poetry and fiction from DC, Maryland and Virginia from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House. She is a graduate of Syracuse University where she studied creative writing with Raymond Carver, and as of 2011, holds an MFA in Fiction from The City College of New York. She lives in Maryland with her family and leads creative writing workshops at The Writer’s Center in Bethesda and at Politics & Prose in Washington, DC. Find her often on twitter @cabockwrites.

Giveaway & Interview with Jona Colson, poetry editor of This Is What America Looks Like

Full disclosure: I have a poem in this anthology.

Today, we’re talking with poetry editor Jona Colson about the new anthology from the Washington Writers’ Publishing House.

It is their first anthology in a number of decades, and the fiction and poetry included in this collection runs the gamut in terms of what America looks like. Many of these poems and stories were written during the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, and so many other traumatic and pivotal events in recent history.

Please give Jona a warm welcome.

Stay to the end of the interview for a special giveaway.

Savvy Verse & Wit: Congratulations on the new anthology, This Is What America Looks Like, published by the Washington Writers’ Publishing House.

This is the second time you’ve worked with them, since they published your first poetry collection, Said Through Glass. How would you describe the publishing process for a debut poetry collection and was that similar or different from working on the anthology?

Jona Colson: It was similar and different. With your own work and developing a manuscript, you see how the poems speak to each other, and I did the same for the anthology. However, the writers were placed reverse alphabetical (Z-A), so I did not have to consider the order of the poems. I still had to create a balance with the poems—the themes, topics, and forms. This was the first time I put on an editor’s hat, and I learned a lot about working with other writers. I also was able to read so many wonderful poems!

SVW: As the poetry editor for the anthology, how much coordination was there with fiction editor Caroline Bock? Did you both have a game plan in mind before submissions started rolling in or were their themes that emerged on their own as submissions were being read?

JC: The submission’s call offered a prompt in many ways, so I was ready to read submissions in response to that. We didn’t share the specific poems and texts that we were reading, but we did discuss the topics and themes we were getting. The majority of submissions came in during the height of the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movements. So, many of the topics changed in response to these events, and we had to balance the narratives of the work we accepted.

SVW: How did you view your role as an editor of the anthology? Let us in on what your process was when selecting poems and whether you asked any artists for edits.

JC: I was so pleased with all the submissions we received. Unfortunately, we had a very limited space with the book, so I had to choose what fit the best. There were many poems that I couldn’t take because of space. I asked poets for revisions when I felt that it would improve their poem. I had a few edits—some minor and some major. I found that writers were really responsive to revising their work, and that was wonderful. I love reading poetry, and I have such respect for any artist who attempts to shape experiences into language.

SVW: This Is What America Looks Like provides a very broad landscape in how writers could approach the topic, but how would you describe what America looks like? Does America’s description merely entail its mountains and landscapes or is it about the people within it?

JC: I would say it is all of that. Emotional and physical landscapes. Dreams and visions. The poems in this anthology offer a reflection of America in many different ways. There are many poems that do not directly respond what America looks like, but discuss belonging, childhood, adulthood, expectations. These are all American experiences.

SVW: Thinking about the writers in the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) region, how would you describe their writing styles and overall view as presented in their poems? Is there something that readers could immediately recognize as poetry from this region?

JC: There are many references to locality. Many poems showcase towns in the DMV, or specific streets and locations—Dumbarton Oaks, The Library of Congress, battlefields. In this way, you are immediately placed into a particular part of our country. Some poems are more abstract but suggest places in the area. The poems—and the fiction—solidify the DMV as a literary powerhouse.

SVW: What has been your fondest memory of your poetic journey so far? And what’s next for you?

JC: Getting to know other poets and writers, and being welcomed into the literary community. I got my MFA from American University, and I got to know many writers. However, since I published my book and started working on this anthology, I have met so many more people and the thriving literary community that we have here in the DMV. Discovering more writers and hearing their stories have been the best part of this journey.

Right now, I’m working on poems and some translation projects. Another book may take a while, but as long as I can keep writing, I’m happy.

Giveaway: Leave a comment about what you think America looks like by Feb. 17, 2021.

I will send the winner (age 18+) a copy of Jona’s book, Said Through Glass, and the anthology This Is What America Looks Like.

Please leave a way for me to contact you.

Interview with Mimi Matthews, author of Gentleman Jim

Today, I have a special guest in the historical fiction sub-genre and while not Austen-related, it caught my attention because it reminded me of one of my favorite books (though they are both quite different). Hidden identities always fascinate me, and this novel has that and more.

Book Synopsis:

She Couldn’t Forget…

Wealthy squire’s daughter Margaret Honeywell was always meant to marry her neighbor, Frederick Burton-Smythe, but it’s bastard-born Nicholas Seaton who has her heart. Raised alongside her on her father’s estate, Nick is the rumored son of notorious highwayman Gentleman Jim. When Fred frames him for theft, Nick escapes into the night, vowing to find his legendary sire. But Nick never returns. A decade later, he’s long been presumed dead.

He Wouldn’t Forgive…

After years spent on the continent, John Beresford, Viscount St. Clare has finally come home to England. Tall, blond, and dangerous, he’s on a mission to restore his family’s honor. If he can mete out a bit of revenge along the way, so much the better. But he hasn’t reckoned for Maggie Honeywell. She’s bold and beautiful– and entirely convinced he’s someone else. As danger closes in, St. Clare is torn between love and vengeance. Will he sacrifice one to gain other? Or, with a little daring, will he find a way to have them both?

This reminds me of the Scarlet Pimpernel in some ways. This could be an escape for those who need it most.

Let’s chat with Mimi Matthews:

What inspired you to write Gentleman Jim?

Mimi Matthews: Gentleman Jim was inspired by two historical novels: Henry Fielding’s 1749 novel The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, and Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel The Count of Monte Cristo. It’s my attempt at a swashbuckling Regency adventure novel, with lots of romance and revenge.

Your novels are usually set in the Victorian era, why did you decide to set this one in the Regency?

MM: The Regency era was much less restrictive than the Victorian era. There wasn’t as much restraint to it, and Gentleman Jim is a story that doesn’t have a great deal of restraint between the characters, whether they’re dueling, brawling, or falling passionately in love.

Though still closed door, this is your hottest novel to date. Is this going to be a trend going forward?

MM: The heat level of my stories very much depends on the characters. For this novel, it had to be hotter. That’s just the kind of romance the hero and heroine have. They’re both incredibly passionate, hot-tempered people.

The title of this novel is similar to a recent HBO series, Gentleman Jack. Do the stories have any similarities?

MM: None at all. The fact is, I wrote the first 1/3 of Gentleman Jim many years ago. Then, it was actually titled Gentleman Jack. By the time I got around to finishing it, the HBO series had already come out, so I knew I’d have to change my title. I just tried to keep it as close to my original as possible.

Any plans to write a sequel to Gentleman Jim?

MM: Actually, I do have a few ideas for the children of the hero and heroine. It all depends on my writing schedule, and—of course—how well Gentleman Jim sells!

What’s next for you?

MM: Right now, I’m working on The Siren of Sussex, the first book in a new Victorian series I’m writing for the Berkley imprint at Penguin Random House. It’s the story of Ahmad Malik, a half Indian habit-maker in 1860s London, and Sussex- born Evelyn Maltravers, the bold bluestocking equestrienne who becomes his love and his muse. Ahmad was a supporting character in my USA Today bestselling Parish Orphans of Devon series.

Thank you, Mimi, for joining us today and sharing some insight into Gentleman Jim.

About the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Her next romance, The Siren of Sussex, will be out in 2022 from Berkley/Penguin Random House. Follow her on GoodReads, BookBub, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter.

Follow the rest of the blog tour (Nov. 9 to Dec. 6) with the hashtags: #GentlemanJim, #HistoricalRomance, #HistoricalFiction, #RegencyRomance, #SwashbucklingHero, #MimiMatthews, #BlogTour

Check out the previous tour stops at Relz Reviewz for a Character Spotlight, a review at Life of Literature, and a review at Austenprose—A Jane Austen Blog.

Also today, check out the review at Greenish Bookshelf.

Giveaway & Interview with Elizabeth Grace, narrator of Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd

Welcome to today’s blog post for Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl edited by Christina Boyd. New out on AUDIO. Stay tuned for a few surprises and a giveaway!

Book Synopsis:

With timeless verve, the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennet, bares her intimate thoughts while offering biting social commentary through a collection of romantic re-imaginings, sequels, and prequels, set in the Regency to present day by ten popular Austenesque authors. Foreword by NY Times & USA Today bestselling author Tessa Dare. “I think her as delightful a character as ever appeared in print…” wrote Jane Austen in a letter, January 1813―and we think so too! Stories by Amy D’Orazio, Jenetta James, Christina Morland, Beau North, Joana Starnes, Karen M Cox, Elizabeth Adams, Leigh Dreyer, J. Marie Croft, and Christina Boyd.

Our guest will be the audiobook narrator, Elizabeth Grace.

Check out this awesome interview with Elizabeth Grace:

1. Have you always wanted to be an audiobook narrator or how did you “fall” into the work?

Long story – No! When I was kid I really wanted to be an actress and did a lot of amateur dramatics and drama exams. I was taught how to speak with received pronunciation and perform poetry and prose for exams. When I got older it was drilled into me that acting was more of a pipe dream for a little girl from the midlands in the UK and so, I took the sensible route. I studied American Studies at University and joined the Drama Society on the side which is where I met my now husband. When I graduated, I got a job in Marketing and stayed there, steadily progressing for six years. Last year, when I was reviewing the future of my career, people kept asking what my dream job would be and I reassessed that old pipe dream and wondered if it could become a reality. I am lucky enough to have a partner who believes in me and has a job that can support us both to an extent so after we got married, we planned a long honeymoon and I quit my nine to five with the idea to focus on my acting career full time on our return from a 3 month South American adventure which was due to begin at the end of February this year. In January, I picked up a few projects here and there including some voice over work and audio dramas. I was told my voice would work well for audiobooks and while I hadn’t really considered this as an option for me, I was intrigued. Skip forward 2 months, my brand new husband and I are sat in Chile having the adventure of a lifetime when we are pulled back to the UK after completing 1/3 of our trip due to Covid 19. During lockdown, I had a lot of time to contemplate my next move, I bought some recording equipment, started auditioning for audiobooks and managed to get involved with some amazing JAFF authors and I couldn’t be happier with where I have ended up so far.

2. What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?

I love that I can bring the characters to life in the story. I like to get a visual of what a character looks like and then start to work on their voice. They obviously have to sound distinct from each other for the listener to know who is talking, and while that could be just accent and pitch, largely the distinction will become apparent in their demeanour and how they are as a person. So much goes into a person’s voice and it’s fascinating to see how this comes and develops even over the course of narrating a book – I sometimes don’t know where I will end up until I am there!

Elizabeth Grace

3. How much control do you have over the tone of your narration? Does the director provide a lot of guidance? Is the author heavily involved in the process?

I usually like to ask the authors I am working with for a little summary which includes the narrator’s tone as well as the characters’. Coming from a marketing background, I understand the importance of a brief! Oftentimes people know already what they want to hear, they know their characters inside out having created them from nothing so it’s important to respect that. Sometimes, a character may require a very specific accent, for this having some sources of reference is really helpful. Using this as a basis and reading through the book, I will do a sample of maybe one or two chapters then based on this I will receive feedback from the author. I will tweak the recording where necessary based on that feedback but Ultimately however, you have to consider your range as a narrator too and what is sustainable for you so because of that, it is very collaborative and super important that everyone is on the same page before you get too into the recording stage so you don’t waste anyone’s time.

4. What are some of your favorite ways to prepare for a narration project? (ie. listen to certain music beforehand, gargle with salt water, etc.)

I have some voice exercises I do before I begin narrating which I have learnt through my training, nothing too intense but some things that work for me on a day to day. There’s a lot of humming and huge facial stetches that go on behind closed doors. Definitely keep some water at hand and being hydrated is key, sometimes a little mid paragraph gargle is helpful but more often than not, taking a quick break and some deep breaths can set you right again. Dropping your breath (or breathing into your belly rather than your chest) is something that has taken me some time to learn but is essential to making sure you can get through those long sentences. Listening to your body and letting it tell you what it needs is my port of call, some days I will need more warming up than others.

5. Do you read through a certain number of chapters before taking a break? What’s the process and how many hours do you spend on narrating one book?

I record almost everyday, I have found that my voice sounds the best in short bursts and can tire easily after too many hours behind the mic and this becomes really evident in the post production. For me, a couple of hours each day is ideal and then it can then take three times as much time to edit those recordings into a finished version ready for the author to review. It keeps me busy all day and I can usually work this around my other commitments. I like to make sure the author I am working for has a steady drip of chapters to review so there isn’t too much down time on either side. I have learnt the importance of maintaining some “me time” more recently so I do take at least one day off at the weekends.

6. What does your recording studio look like if you have one at home (share photos if you like)?

My recording studio is in the bay window of my bedroom! It’s a cute little set up with a desk, and I have pop up screen that fits just nicely behind me to reduce some of that reverb. I would love a swishy, purpose built studio but for now, this works well for me and hopefully sounds alright on the finished edit you all hear!

7. What has been your favorite narration project and why?

I have loved all the projects I have worked on for their own individual reasons. I have to give a mention to Elizabeth Adams who was the first author I worked with within JAFF though that first book was a modern fiction called Green Card. We have a great connection and the way she writes is so easy to read – I guess we are similar in the way we speak. Elizabeth opened the door for me into the JAFF world and without her I wouldn’t have been introduced to all the amazing women I have worked with since then. Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl was the first anthology I have narrated and it really allowed me appreciate the concept of short stories. I adored picking each of them up and finding new tones, pacing and personality within them while staying true to Jane Austen’s characterisations. It has been such a privilege getting to know these talented authors and I am thrilled to be working with some of them again.

8. What is your favorite Jane Austen novel and why?

It’s a super basic answer but I love Pride and Prejudice, though that has definitely been rekindled after reading Elizabeth: Obstinate, Headstrong Girl. Like a lot of you, I have such an affinity with Elizabeth – we do share the same name after all! Tessa Dare put it so well in her foreword – “she is just like me, but awesome”. However, I do have an affliction whereby I become the biggest fan of the thing I am engaging with at any one time. I have noticed the BBC are rerunning a series of Emma from a few years ago that I am about to settle into again so I am certain I will be reviewing the answer next week.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your insights about audiobook narrating. I loved reading this and I know that my readers will too.

About the voice actor:

Originally from the East Midlands in the UK, Elizabeth Grace now lives in South London (via two years in Amsterdam). She is a full-time actor, voice over artist, and narrator.

Elizabeth began her professional performing career a little later in life and has been studying at Identity School of Acting in London since 2019. Prior to that, she had a career agency side in Marketing which explains her penchant for client services.

Since 2019, she has been growing her professional portfolio on top of the amateur theatre work she began in her formative years. She has now been a part of many projects from short films and web series to audio dramas and audiobook narration. Visit her website: https://www.elizabethgraceofficial.com/

Here’s an extra treat, an audio excerpt from J. Marie Croft’s excerpt from “The Age of Nescience“.

About the audio snippet: “Character driven vignettes, Elizabeth looks back on her adolescence up to when she meets Darcy, and she comes to admit her own folly, how she has not been wise as she thought. In this short opening scene, Elizabeth is preparing for her coming out and what that means to her.”

The Audio Snippet excerpt:

“But in such cases as these, a good memory is unpardonable.
This is the last time I shall ever remember it myself.”—Chapter LIX

THE AGE OF NESCIENCE

J. Marie Croft

When I was ten, my father told me I was precocious.

Glowing with pride, I beamed at him.

Ten years later, another gentleman told me, “Where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will
be always under good regulation.”

Turning away, I hid a knowing smirk.

What becomes of pride, though, when real superiority exists purely in one’s own narrow mind?

Only now, after throwing a retrospective glance over my adolescence, do I comprehend how
prideful and energetically wilful was my youthful conduct, how flawed was my biased
discernment…and such it had been from the innocent age of ten to the equally nescient age of
twenty.

Coming Out
1806

In honour of a former merchant’s elevated status, a soirée was hosted in Meryton by my aunt and
uncle Philips. On that moonlit evening, I was permitted to attend in company with my parents
and older sister.

Those of higher circles might have argued I, at fifteen, was not of an age to be introduced into
society; but it was the country, and children often accompanied their elders to social events.
Upon any objection to the scheme, my mother defended the propriety of her decision by claiming
a certain right, as sister of the hostess, to bring whomever she pleased to the gathering.

Neither Mama nor I was satisfied with the results when I donned my first half-dress gown and
had my ringleted hair dressed rather than left loose. She lamented my looks were nothing to
Jane’s, and I experienced a mixture of excitement and mortification at being on display in such
an adult fashion…especially since boys I had romped with in childhood might be in attendance
as eligible men.

In the habit of running, I was saddened to relinquish spirited antics and submit to more ladylike
behaviour. How suddenly we are expected to emerge from girlhood to womanhood, from maiden

to wife. The thought of being viewed as marriageable was as uncomfortable as the hairpins
poking into my scalp and the lightly boned stays thrusting my bosom unnaturally upwards.

“Elizabeth Margaret Bennet! You are not leaving the house looking like that!”

“But… Mama!”

Tut-tutting, she removed the fichu I had tucked into my bodice and flailed the triangle of muslin
in my face. “What were you thinking, child?”

“Of modesty. You went against my wishes and had the bodice lowered. I cannot face our
neighbours with so much of my…with so much of me exposed. New meaning might be given to
my coming out.”

“Oh, pish! ’Tis the latest evening fashion. Every elegant lady wears that cut, and no daughter of
mine will be seen as a dowd. Compared to Jane, you must flaunt whatever meagre, redeeming
features you own.”

Despite my mother’s hopes upon launching a second daughter into the society of adults, my
coming out was not an overwhelming success. Although I had been well liked as a precocious
youngster, my new status was paid scant attention by the local populace. The guest of honour, Sir
William Lucas—my friend Charlotte’s father—did pay me a number of “Capital, capital!”

compliments; and, after imbibing too much port wine, Uncle Philips proclaimed my altered looks
charming.

Home from university, a friend bowed over my hand and, in doing so, his eyes came to rest on
my bodice. Eyebrows hitched, he smirked, saying little before turning to speak with my drunken
uncle. It took willpower to still my hand from cuffing the back of his stupid head. Being genteel
will require tremendous effort, I fear. Discomfited over my erstwhile playmate noticing the
changes in my figure, I was—as if of a contrary nature—annoyed he found me unworthy of
further attention. Well, I would not marry you anyway, William Goulding, even were you the last
man on earth.

 

 

⭐️Giveaway: The #OmgItsOHG (Oh-my-gosh, it’s Obstinate Headstrong Girl) Audiobook Tour begins August 18 with voice actress reading and we hope you will continue to join us and connect at each stop for continued readings, narrator interviews, excerpts, and giveaways. We’ve included a $25 Amazon gift card giveaway, open worldwide, so be sure to participate. Simply comment on the blog stops to be counted for the giveaway (you need not comment everywhere to be entered in that drawing, but we hope you’ll have your share of the conversation.) Ends September 8.

Giveaway & Interview with Sue Barr, Author of Georgiana

Please welcome author Sue Barr. We’ll be talking about her latest Pride & Prejudice continuation and her writing habits and workspace in our interview today. Stay tuned for some goodies too.

About Georgiana:

She longs for true love…
A dowry of thirty thousand pounds places a hefty weight upon the shoulders of Miss Georgiana Darcy. Her tender heart has been broken before by a cad who cared not one whit for who she was, but as a prize to be won, and she fears no man will ever see the worth of her heart.

Duty and honor…
These are the stalwart columns which hold up the life of Maxwell Kerr, Fifth Duke of Adborough. After rescuing Miss Darcy from an inescapable compromise, an offer of marriage is as natural to him as breathing air. When he discovers this is not the first compromise she has evaded, anger becomes his faithful companion and threatens their tenuous bonds of love and respect.

Doesn’t this sound intriguing? I know I’m curious to see what happens for Georgiana.

Thanks, Sue, for agreeing to our interview:

If you were to live in Jane Austen’s novels, which character would you be and why?

This is a HARD question! I know most people say Elizabeth Bennet, but there are times I want to shake her. Obstinate, headstrong girl! That said, I’d want to be her because of the deep love she and Darcy eventually find. Like her, I’m not in awe of someone’s rank (ask hubby, he was in the military and almost died when I approached the Base Commander at a function and asked him if he’d like to dance), and I appreciate great conversation that’s not ‘fluffy’.

What inspired you to give secondary characters like Georgiana, Caroline, and Catherine their own novels?

It all started with one little question. ‘Whatever happened to Caroline Bingley after her brother and Mr. Darcy got engaged to a Bennet sister?’ The series sprang from there and I never hesitated in taking on the secondary characters with the usual suspects delegated to minor roles.

Georgiana carries a heavy burden of expectation and duty for her Darcy family; Explain the process of creating this character harmed by a cad who has all of these expectations for her coming out into society and her eventual marriage, especially given so little is known about her from Austen’s original novel, Pride & Prejudice.

I decided that while Georgiana regretted her mistake, she did not regret the ideals she’d held when contemplating marriage and family. Elizabeth is a strong influence and from her Georgiana gains much strength of character, which she draws upon during the course of this story.

Do you have novels outlined/percolating in your mind for other Austen characters, such as Mary or Lydia Bennet or Anne de Bourgh?

Yes! I’m working on Mary right now. I haven’t thought of the others too much, although Anne de Bourgh would be a delicious character to sample.

Offer one piece of writing advice that you wish someone had told you and one piece of writing advice you did receive that you found helpful in your career.

Writing advice I’ve given and received.

BICHOK: Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard, or as one of my fellow writers said, “vomit” words onto the page. The visual is disgusting but the advice is pure gold. You cannot edit a blank piece of paper, but you can work with drivel.

When not writing Jane Austen-inspired novels, what do you love to do? Special/unique hobbies?

I love canning/preserving food. I want to know what I’m eating and so I make almost everything from scratch. The only programs I watch are Classic movies, cooking shows, News, and Survivor (don’t judge). I also read – voraciously and as grandma to seven kids ranging from newborn to twelve, I don’t have a lot of down time.

When and where do you most often write? Do you have special totems on your desk? Music playing in the background? Paint a picture of your writing space and day, or include a couple of photos.

I retired in 2015 and one year later hubby and I moved into our dream home where I have my own office space. No totems and no sound. I wake fairly early and start my bread. While the dough is rising, I go through e-mails and social media. Put bread in oven and check out A Happy Assembly to see if new posts have been added to stories I follow. Bread is done and now I can focus on my manuscript and try to get in a few words. I’m an extremely SLOW writer. The rest of my day is taken up with light housework, grocery shopping if required, three demanding cats, and meal prep. I could not be happier. Well, I could, but hubby doesn’t retire until next year.

I love learning about writers and their writing spaces, their hobbies, and their writing advice. I hope everyone enjoyed learning about Sue’s new book and is ready for the giveaway!

About the Author:

“The prairie dust is in my blood but no longer on my shoes.”

Sue Barr coined that phrase when once asked where she came from. Although it’s been over thirty-seven years since she called Saskatchewan home, her roots to that straight-lined province and childhood friends run deep. The only thing strong enough to entice her to pack up and leave was love. When a handsome Air Force pilot met this small-town girl, he swept her off her feet and they embarked on a fantastic adventure which found them settled in beautiful Southwestern Ontario when hubby retired from the military and began his second career as an airline pilot.

Sue started writing in 2009 and sold her first manuscript in 2010. For four years she was published under the pen name of Madison J. Edwards, and in 2014 began to write sweet contemporary romance under her own name. Always a reader of Regency romance, she discovered Jane Austen Fan Fiction through a childhood friend who writes under the name of Suzan Lauder. Almost immediately a question popped into her head, “Whatever happened to Caroline Bingley after her brother and Mr. Darcy became engaged to a Bennet sister?” and the “Pride & Prejudice Continued…” series was launched.

Sue is a member of Romance Writers of America and its satellite chapter, The Beau Monde. She is one course away from achieving her Professional Creative Writer’s certificate from the University of Western Ontario’s continuing study curriculum. In her spare time, she cans and preserves her own food, cooks almost everything from scratch and grows herbs to dehydrate and make into seasoning. Hubby has no complaints other than his trousers keep shrinking. At least that’s what he claims…. Oh, the kids and grandkids don’t mind this slight obsession either. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Amazon.

GIVEAWAY ALERT:

Sue is also gifting three e-copies of GEORGIANA to three lucky winners via Rafflecopter.

Open internationally through March 12.

If you can’t wait, here are the BUY LINKS:

Interview with Eric D. Goodman, author of Setting the Family Free

Happy publication day to Eric D. Goodman.

Eric D. Goodman is the author of four books, including Tracks: A Novel in Stories, which I reviewed back in 2012. His new novel, Setting the Family Free, is about a preserve of exotic animals being released into an Ohio community.

Today we talk with Eric about his new book and his writing.

Setting the Family Free sounds like an unusual and interesting premise. What inspired you to write this novel?

Setting the Family Free was inspired by a real event, although the characters and actions in my book are entirely fictional and the locations have been changed to similar but different places.

There are many times when I read or see or hear an extended news story, especially the ones that unfold over a period of time, and think that it would be a great idea for a novel. Usually I write a few pages of notes and file it away for the future. In this instance, I was inspired to jump on the topic right away.

I spent a good amount of my time in Ohio during early adulthood, so I knew the places well. I’d always wanted to write an “Ohio book” and an “animal book,” and this was an opportunity to do both. I visited the places where the real events happened, and the places where I set my scenes, and I made a point to drop in on a number of zoos and animal reserves during the writing of the book.

Another unique thing about this novel is the way you tell it. Some sections are traditional narrative from main characters, but others sections are news transcripts, newspaper article excerpts, and sound bites from people involved with the events or who knew the people involved. Tell me about that choice.

My main inspiration was to explore the story of why a person would release his dangerous animals into the community and what would happen when he did. But I also found myself interested in how a real news story unfolds and how different people and groups view what transpired differently.

The entire issue of exotic animal ownership was one that conjured many different viewpoints, but adding the personal perspectives of people involved seemed like a great opportunity to experiment not only with multiple perceptions of individuals, but different ways to tell a story.

As happens in real life, I wanted to “break” the story with the sensational headlines and reports, and show how the news was reported differently by different sources with various agendas. In an almost mockumentary way, I wanted to paint a picture of the situation and the main characters involved with sound bites and news clips, and then to delve deeper through the perspectives of the characters involved. Not only the owner of the animals, but his estranged wife, workers, those attacked by the animals, the hunting party with their own varying views—from veterans to veterinarians—and even the animals themselves.

It’s interesting how often we see a news headline or catch a few minutes of a news broadcast and think we already know the story. I wanted to dig deeper and get the story as it existed to those intimately involved.

Did the novel or series, Zoo by James Patterson, influence Setting the Family Free?

It’s funny you should bring that up. To be honest, I have not read the book or watched the movie. I wouldn’t allow myself to, because I didn’t want it to influence my rewrites in any way. I wrote the first draft of Setting the Family Free before I knew Zoo existed.

I wrote the first draft of the book while I was the Fall 2012 writer-in-residence at the Ox-Bow Artist Colony, part of the Art Institute of Chicago’s School of Art. I finished the first draft and felt really good about having an original story unlike anything else. On the way home, I stopped in at an airport book store and what do I see? James Patterson’s Zoo.

I’m sure a lot of writers can relate to this, but it’s not the first time this serendipity has happened to me. I wrote my first draft of Womb: a novel in utero ten years before it was published in 2017. Within the same year, Ian McEwan published a novel in utero, Nutshell.

But more important than the similarities in these novels are the differences that make each story unique. Although I haven’t read or watched Zoo yet, I believe it’s about the animals in zoos across the world changing genetically and attacking people. I think it has a supernatural or science fiction or aspect to it in that way. My book is closer to literary fiction than it is to science fiction; it’s about absolutely normal animals being put in a bad situation—and the people of nearby communities being put in equally bad situations as a result.

Now that Setting the Family Free is out, I’ll look forward to reading Zoo, just as I waited until Womb was published before reading Nutshell.

So, Zoo did not inspire Setting the Family Free. Did you find inspiration from any other books?

Certainly. I found inspiration in the Tim O’Brien novel, In the Lake of the Woods. I really admire O’Brien’s work, and was blown away years ago by the way he told that story with “evidence” chapters and “what if” chapters. In an earlier draft of Setting the Family Free, I actually had some “what if” sections that contemplated different outcomes and motivations, but decided it didn’t work in this book. But the alternate formats and perspectives, I think, made for an interesting way to explore this story.

Also, John Steinbeck would sometimes weave very short and seemingly unrelated chapters between the ongoing story chapters—like a turtle crossing the road—and that inspired some of the animal-POV chapters.

You’ve been writing for a long time. When did you first discover you were a writer?

Sea turtles instinctively know to head for the water after they hatch on the beach. Writing, for me, is like an instinct, or drive, that I’ve had for as long as I can remember. I vividly recall an early elementary school assignment that solidified that storytelling instinct. I was in the third grade when our teacher instructed us to write a short story. Most kids came in with two or three pages of scribbling. I came in with an epic romp about a boy creating a good monster to fight off the evil beasts of an apocalyptic world. From that point, I realized that writing was not just something I liked to do—it was something I instinctively needed to do.

What is it about writing that drove you to pursue it as a career?

Although I didn’t understand it at the time, back during that elementary school writing assignment, I believe the desire to bring people together and to promote understanding through common storytelling was what sparked my interest and kept me writing. Even before I realized it, many of the stories I told had common themes at their heart: bringing unlike people together, getting opposites to understand one another, and trying
to see things from multiple perspectives. I remember writing a story that was essentially a retelling of Star Wars from the point of view of a Stormtrooper wising the terrorists (rebels) would stop undermining the laws of the government.

Much of my writing is centered on just trying to tell a good story. But beneath that surface, I do want to create work that people from different walks of life can relate to, and to perhaps help people meet in the middle to look at things in a new way.

How does Setting the Family Free compare to your past books?

Setting the Family Free is similar to my other books because of my empathetic writing style and my effort to look at each individual as a flawed but decent person—not good or bad, but human. It’s similar to Tracks: A Novel in Stories due to my use of multiple perspectives, although Tracks told different stories that intertwined while Setting the Family Free is essentially telling one story from multiple perspectives. Like my previous books, this one character-focused. That is, the characters tend to be more important that the plot.

But Setting the Family Free is very different from anything I’ve written before. Although characters matter most, this book is far more action-driven. The characters grew out of the “what” of the story rather than the other way around. And my storytelling method is something new to me: moving the story forward with the use of broadcasts and quotes from those involved and article excerpts and political tape transcripts—even blending in real quotes with the fictional ones.

The effect, I hope, is a story about the event, but one enriched with multiple perspectives and multiple storytelling methods. And one that will keep readers turning the page.

Is there a connection between the title of the book and the plot?

Setting the Family Free is what Sammy, the owner of the exotic pets, believes he is doing when he releases them into the community. He considers his animals his family. But it also refers to other families in the book: the traditional families that react to the animals, the self-made families or fraternities of people who join together for a common interest or cause, or the family of community, like the sheriff’s team. I try to examine the family unit, which isn’t always as cut and dry as the traditional definition.

Setting the Family Free has earned endorsements from authors like Jacquelyn Mitchard, Juno Diaz, Lucrecia Guerrero, and Rafael Alvarez. If you could get this book into anyone’s hands, who’s would it be?

Besides Oprah and Spielberg? I’d love for Tom O’Brien to read it; I sent a copy to him. But I’m really thankful for the blurbs and reviews I’ve received and feel like the validation from other authors and journals is worth its weight in book sales. Every review and rating on GoodReads or Amazon or anywhere helps, especially for small-press authors.

I think it would be great for the people involved with the real incident or similar incidents to read it. I think and hope they would see that I didn’t demonize or glorify anyone, but instead tried to show everyone involved from different perspectives as well rounded—just as real people tend to be.

Thanks, Eric, for stopping by today to share with us your new book. Please do check out his book launch in Baltimore, Md., if you’re in the area or pick up a copy of the book from your local bookstore or on Amazon.

Loyola University’s Apprentice House Press releases Setting the Family Free by Eric D. Goodman as a hardcover, trade paperback, and e-book on October 1, 2019. The Ivy Bookshop (6080 Falls Road, Baltimore) is hosting the official book launch on Sunday, October 6 at 5 p.m., and animal-themed wine and snacks will be served, along with a reading from the novel.