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Meet Meg Kerr, Author of Devotion, and Giveaway


Please welcome Meg Kerr to the blog today and stay tuned for the giveaway.

About the book:

Georgiana Darcy at the age of fifteen had no equal for beauty, elegance and accomplishments, practised her music very constantly, and created beautiful little designs for tables. She also made secret plans to elope with the handsome, charming and immoral George Wickham. Will the real Georgiana Darcy please stand up? In Devotion, Georgiana, now twenty years of age and completely lovely, does just that. Taking centre stage in this sequel to Experience that sweeps the reader back into the world of Pride and Prejudice, she is prepared to shape her own destiny in a manner that perplexes and horrifies not only the Darcy-de Bourgh connexion but the whole of fashionable London. The arrival of a long-delayed letter, and a clandestine journey, bring Georgiana and her fortune into the arms of an utterly wicked young man whose attentions promise her ruin. At the same time, events in Meryton are creating much-needed occupation for Mrs. Bennet and an amorous quandary for Lydia Bennet’s girlhood companion Pen Harrington; and the former Caroline Bingley is given—perhaps—an opportunity to re-make some of her disastrous romantic choices. Meg Kerr writing effortlessly and wittily in the style of Jane Austen gives Pride and Prejudice fans the opportunity to visit the year 1816 to re-unite with favourite characters, and meet some intriguing new ones.

Please give Meg a warm welcome:

Hello readers of Savvy Verse & Wit! My name is Meg Kerr, and I’m thrilled to be here with you. First, I’d like to thank Serena for allowing me to contribute this guest post on my writing process, writing quirks, and my life-long love for Jane Austen. My new book, Devotion, explores events after Pride and Prejudice ends through fan-favourite characters including Georgiana Darcy and Mrs. Bennet, and I think you’ll find it an interesting read as I’ve added several twists.

Also, in celebration of Jane Austen’s 200th anniversary, I’m offering Devotion for FREE on July 18th. To get your free copy of Devotion, click here to visit the giveaway page!

Can you describe your writing process? Is it difficult to write in the style of Jane Austen?

Jane Austen said in a letter to her nephew J. Edward Austen, “What should I do with your strong, manly, spirited sketches, full of variety and glow? How could I possibly join them on to the little bit (two inches wide) of ivory on which I work with so fine a brush, as produces little effect after much labour?”

Writing in the style of Jane Austen is indeed “much labour”! There is nothing slap dash or stream-of- consciousness (or manly and spirited) about it. The overall plot and chapters’ place within it and the characters themselves have to be meticulously considered and planned out before any actual “writing” takes place. Each chapter, each paragraph, each sentence have to be constructed with care. And the result has to look as though no effort was required!

Do you have any writing quirks?

I would love to say that when I work I retire to my drawing room and sit at a mahogany writing desk, with fine linen paper, a quill pen, blotting paper, a pen knife and a pot of India ink. It sounds so elegant! However, I write at my computer, which has a dual screen. I could use three or four screens to keep all the information I need right under my eye! But the room I write in has French doors looking out onto a beautiful garden, so I glance outside every now and then to refresh my soul.

What is it about Jane Austen and her writing that most interests you? Are there any themes you’ve found influence your own writing?

I think the great underlying theme that draws me to Austen is one of “quiet desperation” (to quote Thoreau rather than Austen). Many of Austen’s characters are in genuine danger of penury and/or social degradation (that would be all of the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice; Jane Fairfax and her family in Emma; the Dashwoods in Sense and Sensibility, as well as Colonel Brandon’s ill-fated first love and her ruined daughter; Maria Rushworth (née Bertram)—and Fanny Price’s mother who married “to disoblige her family”—in Mansfield Park; the Watson sisters in The Watsons. (Just a partial list!).

The apparent calm and graciousness of Regency life can be a thin cover atop a terrifying reality for Austen’s women, and even some of her men (such as Edward Ferrars in Sense and Sensibility, who is disowned by his wealthy mother). Austen and Mrs. Bennet’s family in Pride and Prejudice hold Mrs. Bennet in contempt, but really, she is the only person who appears to appreciate the peril she and her daughters are in.

On a livelier note, I am fascinated by Jane Austen’s bad boys. Clearly, she was too. Wickham (Pride and Prejudice), John Willoughby (Sense and Sensibility), Henry Crawford (Mansfield Park) are chief among them—young men with serious problems with their moral compasses … but in the latter two cases, with some hope of redemption. Austen couldn’t quite bring Willoughby or Crawford into the light although she came close.

I decided to try my hand at it: Devotion is the story of a bad boy (John Amaury) who seizes on the idea of marriage to wealthy, lovely Georgiana Darcy to extricate himself from a life of poverty and petty crime. Will he destroy Georgiana or will he be redeemed? As you can imagine, with Austen as my guide, it’s up in the air right until the end of the story.

If you’re so inclined, Devotion will be available as a FREE digital download on July 18th as my way to commemorate the life and literary contributions of Jane Austen. You’ll find the link to get your copy near the top of this post. I’d love to hear your feedback on the book!

Thanks, Meg, for sharing your writing practices with us and for the wonderful giveaway.

About Meg Kerr:

What do you do when you live in the twenty-first century but a piece of your heart lies in the nineteenth? If you are author Meg Kerr you let your head and hand follow your heart. With her love of country life—dogs and horses, long walks in the woods and fields, dining with family and neighbours and dancing with friends, reading and writing and the best conversation—and her familiarity with eighteenth and nineteenth century history and literature, Meg has a natural gift to inhabit, explore and reimagine the world that Jane Austen both dwelt in and created, and to draw readers there with her.

Interview with Beth Kephart, Juncture Workshops Co-Founder

In case you missed my review of this must have workbook — Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit — you must check out my review.

Today, Beth Kephart stops by to answer a few questions about her workbook and Juncture, memoir workshops and a newsletter.  Please give her a warm welcome.

After teaching memoir at Penn, what prompted you to create your own series of workshops focused on writing memoir?  Was the process from idea to launching your first workshop long? And what obstacles did you face and how did you deal with those?

Serena, I helplessly love memoir. I read it with real hunger, deep interest, open questions. I have been asked by many adult writers if I could work privately on individual manuscripts. I have given memoir talks across the country and run one day memoir workshops in communities and seen what can happen when adults gather to write about their lives. It felt like it was time to create something like Juncture. It took more than a year to roll this out. We wanted to make something beautiful. Find the right sites. Create a gorgeous web site and brochure series. Build a robust syllabi. It took a lot of time and love.

Juncture is a joint project with your equally talented husband; how has that journey been?  How do you find artistic balance when you’re working closely together?

Bill is enormously talented. I love his art, his eye, his interest in building meaningful and artful communities. We have collaborated on many projects throughout the years. The creation of Juncture, which involves an Illustrated newsletter, videos, and the workshops themselves, has been deeply engaging and very personal and something we talk about and plan together. We rarely disagree on any aspect of this initiative.

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook is a collection of exercises or more.  Are these the same exercises you use in your workshops?  What have been the reactions from participants to those exercises?

I actually never teach the same thing twice. I develop themes for each workshop and work towards them. I may teach some version of some of these exercises but mostly what is in the book was created for buyers of the book. The exercises are holistic. One thing builds to the next and the next. You can do each exercise as a singular experience or you can progressively build toward key elements of your memoir. I loved thinking about the accretive process.

While I never teach the same thing, while I build an intense curriculum that creates many opportunities to study memoir and to write multiple pieces, while I supplement all teaching with excerpts I have on hand and use to develop ideas that rise spontaneously … I always see incredible growth in the Juncture writers over the five days we have together. The kind of growth that makes me cry. And because these writers most often come back for another session months later, I see how they have continued to find their voices and stories in the meantime. It is hugely emotional to be a part of this. We memorialize the experience with a book each writer receives. Portraits Bill will take. Final pages published. Proof of our community and process.

You’ve included illustrations from your husband in this workbook. Did you give him the freedom to create anything he wanted or did you offer him guidance?  Are there plans to include photography in future editions (I know there will be second and third editions)?

Bill has absolute freedom with the art. I am surprised by each sketch he shows me. I love each sketch. His work makes me happy. No plans for another version, but yes, as I have established, I can’t stop thinking about memoir. 

For those interested in signing up for your workshop, what advice would you give about preparing for the workshop in advance? How should they approach the experience? Do you expect them to have a memoir project already in mind?

I prepare my workshop goers. Two months ahead of time the participants are sent PDF packages with excerpt readings, assignments, a guide to the one full book we all read as part of the process, and so much more. I run a workshop for those who have not yet defined their memoir project and one for those already deep into their book. They are entirely different and very respectful of where each writer is in the process.

Thank you, Beth, for sharing your thoughts with us.  If you’re looking for a great memoir teacher, Beth is your lady.

Interview with Poet Sandra Hochman, author of Loving Robert Lowell

Poets are often an intriguing bunch, and Sandra Hochman is no exception.  She was on the front lines of the women’s movement and even interviewed Gloria Steinem.  She also directed 1973 documentary Year of the Woman.

Her first book in 40 years is a memoir, Loving Robert Lowell (Turner Publishing, June 27, 2017).  Lowell also was a poet and a married man.  The book description says, “Sandra Hochman was 25 when she received a journalism assignment that changed her life: interview Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Lowell. She called him to set a time to speak and he suggested they meet immediately at the Russian Tea Room in New York. There, he confessed he had just left his wife. Many martinis later, they began a heady and disorienting affair with more heat than city asphalt baking in the sun.”

I was lucky enough to send her a few interview questions.  Please give her a warm welcome.

How did you begin as a writer? What inspired you to write, how did you keep going, and what stumbling blocks did you face and overcome?

My parents hated each other. They got divorced when I was young and they sent me to boarding school. In boarding school, I was lucky. God blessed me. I had a great teacher who took an interest in me and encouraged my writing. I was so lonely. His encouragement meant everything to me. I kept writing to get his attention. I found that by writing I was able to get a lot of attention.

Later, having a child of my own was a stumbling block to my writing career because it was expensive to support her. Because her father didn’t support her, I had to write to make money, rather than write for pleasure.

I wrote novels to make money to send my daughter to private school and pay for her nanny. With every book, I got paid. Jogging was Ariel’s 6th grade payment. Happiness Is Too Much Trouble paid for her 10th grade. Each book represented 2 years of her private school. Only my poetry I wrote for pleasure.

You’ve interviewed a number of famous celebrities and feminists in the past, particularly as part of the Year of the Woman documentary.  How did that experience influence or not influence your writing?

Making Year of the Woman with the producer Porter Bibb was the most fun I ever had in my life. I was the co-producer, director, and star. Art Buchwald plays the chauvinist pig and I play the revolutionary feminist.

I had an all-woman crew long before that was a fashionable thing to do. The difference between making a documentary and writing is the difference between going to Pittsburgh or to Paris. Making a film is Paris. It’s so much fun. Especially when you are in charge. Porter let me call the shots.

I also learned the unglamorous parts of making a film: hiring lawyers, making contracts. I loved it all. Movie making made me feel good. It was a boost to my ego, and when you feel good it’s easier to write. When you feel like shit it’s hard to write.

Your memoir, Loving Robert Lowell, will be published this month, what should readers take away from it about being a poet and how the relationship shaped your future?

Robert Lowell gave me wonderful advice. He said, “Sandra, never compete with your peers. Take your poem and float it down the stream of history. The greatest poets don’t compare their work to their peers’.  They compare it to the greatest poets of all time.” It was interesting advice and an important takeaway for me.

The other thing I learned from him is how he framed his problems as “grist for the mill.” He joked that the problem was the mill itself (his mind).

After our affair ended, I was very depressed. Then a few years after Robert Lowell and I broke up, I realized I could not have handled the problems of his illness. I was glad that I was no longer with him. But it took a few years. I never was as happy with any man as I was with Robert Lowell. It was the only time in my life when I had a really great relationship. I admired him more than any other man on earth.

Thank you so much, Sandra, for answering my questions.  I have so many more!

About the Poet:

Sandra Hochman is a Pulitzer Prize-nominated poet with six volumes of poetry. She also authored two nonfiction books and directed a 1973 documentary, Year of the Woman, currently enjoying a renaissance. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker and she was a columnist for Harper’s Bazaar.

Interview with Teddy Durgin

TeddyDurginPicIf you missed my review of The Totally Gnarly Way Bogus Murder of Muffy McGregor by Teddy Durgin, you’ll have to check that out here.

1. I know you’ve been writing this one for a long time, so how long did it take you to write the first draft and then edit it into the final product?

I actually treated the book like I was making a movie. I had started novels before, gotten halfway or more into them, realized the stories weren’t quite working, and gave up. The old cliche. But with “Muffy,” I really knew I had something. I had pretty much the basics of the entire story in my head for years, and I didn’t want to screw it up. A good story really does seize you. It almost becomes a responsibility to tell!

So, I spent nearly six months before I even started writing the book plotting out each beat of the story, outlining each chapter, jotting down lines of dialogue and character exchanges I knew had to be in the novel in a notebook. So, by the time I was ready to “start production” — i.e., writing the first draft — I was totally ready. That was September 2015, and I finished the book in February, on President’s Day of this year. And then I spent the next three months in “post-production,” revising, tweaking, getting it proof-read (four minor typos still slipped through … aargh … but there’s always the 2nd edition in August).

2. Why self-publish? And are there plans for more with Sam, Chip, and Buddy?

I liken independent publishing in 2016 to where indie filmmaking was in the late 1980s and ’90s. With all of the consolidation going on in the publishing industry, all of the bricks-and-mortars stores closing, less risk-taking in general, some of the best and most daring work is not coming out of Random House or the other biggies. When I also saw the success some other authors I greatly admire who have gone this route were enjoying, both creatively and financially, it just seemed like the right way for me.

I am friends with Gus Russo, the best-selling, non-fiction crime author. One of his last books, “Boomer Days,” was published via CreateSpace and he raved about the process and the people involved. It was a niche book, very different from his previous titles like “The Outfit” and “Supermob.” But it became really successful, too. Then, when I saw the kind of numbers and the following authors like Patti Davis, mystery author M. Louisa Locke, and the very witty Jennifer Tress were attracting, I was 100-percent convinced.

Now, it has helped that I have been able to build off my own audience via my weekly film reviews that run in Teddy’s Takes, the East County Times in Baltimore, and ScreenIt.com, as well as my monthly column in the Maryland and Washington Beverage Journals. My readers’ support has gotten “Muffy” off to a great start!

As for turning this into a series, if I were to do another, I would pick a similar goofy title; probably keep the action in the ’80s in my hometown of Laurel, Md.; but introduce new characters. Some of the minor ones from “Muffy,” like the gossipy mall geezers Mel and Rodney, would cross over. But that would be about it. If I did a direct sequel, it would be set 20 years later with a grown-up Sam as a dad to a teenager who’s similarly flirting with danger.

3. How many times did you re-watch episodes of “Magnum P.I.” to get that scene just right with Rabinowitz, Sam, and Chip when they enter that office?

HA! No, that was all from memory. I’ve sworn over the years to my wife that somehow, some way I was going to make money on all of this “useless” ”70s and 80s pop culture trivia knowledge I have. Personally, I wish there was a purely ’80s cable TV channel. You really can’t find reruns of shows like “Magnum” or “Riptide” or “Remington Steele” anymore.

Follow-up question: Were you listening to all that 80s music you referenced in the acknowledgments on repeat while writing?

I would listen to those tunes before I would write to get me “in the zone.” I can’t listen to music while I type … not even abstracts.

4. How much of Sam Eckert is you? And are any of these characters based on real people? How do you meld fact and fiction?

It’s an old, OLD saying, but you really are most successful when you “write what you know.” Like Sam, I really did work as a 15-year-old stock boy at the Laurel Centre Mall’s 16 Plus clothing store for plus-sized women during the summer of 1986. Like Sam, I was a Lutheran attending the local Catholic High School. And, like Sam, I would get together with a couple of buddies whenever I could at the mall food court and talk flicks, pop music, bad TV, and we’d lament about our social status (or lack thereof). Unlike Sam, I am not a child of divorce, and I never lived in an apartment. He is also VERY different from me physically.

Most characters in the book have elements of people I knew growing up. But then I would add other quirks to them to make them their own people. Collette was my boss at 16 Plus, but she was not a former BBW supermodel. There really were about a half-dozen senior citizens who would gather at the mall each day and bust each other’s chops. And they knew EVERYTHING that went on in the mall. I condensed them down to Mel and Rodney. Rabinowitz is modeled more after my college journalism professor, Tom Nugent, than anyone. But Bernie Sanders was growing in popularity as I was writing the novel, and so I kept hearing his voice and tenor as I was writing Mervyn.

And then, I would just throw in last names and first names here and there of people I knew and grew up with to delight those who I hoped would one day read the book. In fact, I’ve actually had a few people e-mail me from my past who have asked, “Hey, why didn’t I make it in the book in some way?!” So, yeah, I am definitely going to have to do some kind of sequel or follow-up!

Laurel5. Now that you’ve moved out of Maryland into another state, did you find that you could finish the book more easily because you missed your former home?

Writing this book was actually a way to deal with whatever residual “homesickness” I was feeling for Maryland (and, uh, my lost youth). The Laurel of 2016 is VERY different from the Laurel of 1986. It’s silly to say, but I actually got to a point when I was still living in Maryland where I would kind of mourn all that had been lost and was no longer there in my hometown. The mall? Gone. Woolworth’s and its legendary lunch counter? Long gone. The Laurel Twin Cinema? It’s almost impossible for a two-screen theater to survive today. But it was wonderful to remember and “rebuild” each of these places again on the page.

6. Readers always want to know about writing routines, so did you have a specific time set aside to write this novel, as I know you have a full-time writing job and do other projects as well? How do you fit it all in?

I am one of those writers that absolutely has to compartmentalize pretty much all aspects of my life in order to be productive. I can’t mix and match. I never pen movie reviews during my day-job hours. I don’t write news articles immediately after coming back from a film premiere, when I really need to write about the movie I just saw while it’s fresh in my head.

But tackling a novel?! There was only one way that I could do it. Because I had plotted out the chapters and story beats so specifically for months, I would clock out of my day job on Friday afternoons, my family and I would go to a nice dinner (I never feel like cooking on a Friday), and then I would come home and write the novel until about 11 p.m. or midnight and then throughout the day on Saturday and parts of Sunday whenever I had a free hour or two.

My goal was one chapter a week. If I maintained that pace, I would have the planned 16 chapters done in 16 weeks. Well, it took me about 22 weeks with the holidays and various life happenings. But on the weekends, I would just bang it out. Rather than being tired from a week of writing and editing, it would energize me. I would look forward to writing “Muffy!” It actually became the most fun I’ve ever had writing anything!

One other thing that I don’t recommend, but I did it. I didn’t tell ANYONE! Not even my wife. It’s not uncommon to find me pounding away at the keyboard, writing at all hours of the day and evening. So, I never attracted any suspicion. I thought I would tell her at some point. But it was so much fun having a little secret, and I was really moving at a good pace. She was remarkably understanding when I finally told her I had finished it on President’s Day. Just to be safe, though, I told her in a crowded public restaurant!

7. I ask this question of all interviewees: Do you read poetry? If not, why? If so, Who or what collections would you recommend?

I don’t read as much poetry now as when I was young. I was an English major in college. And, I tell you, one of the most fun times I have EVER had was taking a 200-level summer Poetry course as an elective. Summer classes were a couple of times a week for six weeks, I recall. So, each of the classes was three hours long. And it was just bliss. We would read poetry, write poetry, read each other’s poetry, act out poems. It was the summer of 1989, and “Dead Poets Society” was a big movie that summer. It felt almost fourth-dimensional.

I did find I was not very good at writing poetry. But it was still so much fun. There was a real “intimacy” to that class and a few other summer writing courses I took over the years at UMBC that I still miss to this day. My favorite poet, by the way, will probably always be Dylan Thomas. “Do not go gentle into that good night!”

8. Did you read a lot of mysteries before writing this one, and do you have favorite mystery authors?

I read a LOT of Sherlock Holmes mysteries growing up. I had seen the 1939 Basil Rathbone-starring film “The Hound of the Baskervilles” when I was maybe 10 or 11 on Saturday morning TV (one of the DC-area UHF channels ran it) and then started checking out volumes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle whenever it was “library day” at school. There was about a two- or three-year span where my teachers were, like, “Read someone else!”

Then, years later, Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” did several Holmes-holodeck episodes, and I had a whole second “Sherlock” era.

First, I have to say, Dylan Thomas is awesome.  And Second, I cannot believe he didn’t tell his wife he was writing a novel until it was nearly done!

Thanks, Teddy, for this fantastic interview, and I wish you great success!

Interview with Jenetta James, Author of The Elizabeth Papers

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Hello readers,
Welcome to today’s interview with Jenetta James, the author of The Elizabeth Papers.

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About the book:

“It is settled between us already, that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” —Jane Austen, Pride & Prejudice

Charlie Haywood is a London-based private investigator who has made his own fortune—on his own terms. Charming, cynical, and promiscuous, he never expected to be attracted to Evie Pemberton, an emerging and independent-minded artist living with the aftermath of tragedy. But when he is hired to investigate her claims to a one hundred and fifty year old trust belonging to the eminent Darcy family, he is captivated.

Together they become entwined in a tale of love, loss, and mystery tracing back to the grand estate of Pemberley, home to Evie’s nineteenth century ancestors, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy.

How could Evie know that in 1817 Elizabeth Darcy began a secret journal? What started as an account of a blissful life came to reflect a growing unease. Was the Darcy marriage perfect or was there betrayal and deception at its heart?

Can Evie and Charlie unearth the truth in the letters of Fitzwilliam Darcy or within the walls of present-day Pemberley? What are the elusive Elizabeth papers and why did Elizabeth herself want them destroyed?

Without further ado, please give Jenetta a warm welcome:

When did you first read Pride & Prejudice? And what about the story stuck with you enough to write The Elizabeth Papers?

I first read Pride & Prejudice in the autumn of 1995, when I was 13. The reason I can be so specific is that a school friend and I decided to read it whilst watching the now famous mini series which was on BBC 1 every Sunday evening for 6 weeks. Our goal was to read ahead of the TV programme. We didn’t quite get it right every episode, sometimes reading too far and sometimes not enough. For this reason, it was slightly disjointed, but we loved it none the less. Since then I have enjoyed re-reading the book many times.

The narrative arc of Pride & Prejudice is so simple and elegant and it is a really deft example of character revelation and development. For that reason I think it is a novel which inspires its readers to write – to try to live up to that standard. I also suspect that the number of novels inspired by Pride & Prejudice are many more than those that are openly promoted as such. It is the kind of book that when you read it you think “yes, that’s how you do it”.

When I wrote The Elizabeth Papers, I had already written one Pride & Prejudice variation story, Suddenly Mrs. Darcy. In both cases the basics of the story came to me in a bit of a flash. The Elizabeth Papers commences with a letter written by Mr. Darcy to his solicitor in 1860. When I am not writing, I am a practising barrister and so I have a tendency to pick up on the legal issues in books I read. I had in my mind the far reaching consequences of the entail on Longbourn in Pride & Prejudice and that is an idea that I have tried to play with in The Elizabeth Papers. I hope that readers enjoy it!

Many fans of Austen often do not like to read the Brontes. Do you read the Brontes and enjoy their work? If not, why?

I love the Brontes. I first read all of the novels as a teenager and then re-read Jane Eyre, which is my favourite in my early 20s. All of the Bronte novels are of course very different to Jane Austen, but I don’t see them as mutually exclusive in terms of enjoyment and value. Another favourite classic author is Thomas Hardy – I love his novels and especially the somewhat under-appreciated “Woodlanders”.

When working with someone else's beloved characters, what do you keep in mind when writing new stories for them? What are the challenges? advantages?

It is a real balancing act, and one I’m sure I have not yet perfected! On the one hand, I want the characters to be believable versions of the originals. So, I have to constantly check them against the originals, asking what would Elizabeth do here? What would she say? How would the character from the original have been changed by age and events?

The character features from the original act like a metronome, clicking away in the background, keeping me on track. On the other hand, I don’t want to be too straightjacketed about it and there is a danger of the quest for authenticity inhibiting creativity. I am striving for faithfulness but I want to tell a new story of my own creation as well. That is the challenge.

In The Elizabeth Papers, there are two halves to the story. In the Regency half, almost all of the characters are drawn from Pride & Prejudice. In the modern half, all of the characters are people who I have made up. I feel far more at liberty to do what I like with those characters that I do with Austen’s creations. So, I suppose that I have tried to have my cake and eat it in this department.

If you had to describe Mr. Darcy as readers know him, not as he is perceived by Elizabeth Bennet, what four words would you use and how did you come to chose those terms?

Honourable. This is the first word that jumped into my head when I read your question and it cuts through everything that he says and does in my view. His sense of honour is of course not appreciated by Elizabeth until very late in the day, but once it is understood, it is the glue that sticks his other characteristics together.

Reserved. This is very important in terms of how other people see him, including Elizabeth at the beginning of their story. He is basically rather introverted while Elizabeth is extraverted. I am a chronic introvert and so very ready to spot the same in others, real and fictional.

Romantic. Not to be underestimated although of course this is something that Austen suggests quite lightly and has been subsequently greatly embellished by readers (me included).

Observant. Mr. Darcy is a watcher, not a talker and he observes carefully everything that goes on around him. This, like his reserve, can be misconstrued.

Do you read poetry? Who or what collections would you recommend?

I’m afraid that I do not read poetry very often, and this question has inspired me to think about poetry which I have enjoyed in the past.

The last time I was a regular poetry reader was in my teens. I grew up in Cambridge and had a bit of a Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes thing going on for many years. I bought Birthday Letters on the day that it came out and still have it now. I also recall enjoying William Blake and T. S. Elliot. For A-Level, I studied John Donne and his work manages to be sexy, funny *and* 17th century. You have inspired me to go back and read it again.

I have 2 very little children and several of their favourite books are written in verse. My favourites are Bunny Fluff’s Moving Day by A. J. MacGregor and Appley Dapply by Beatrix Potter. I don’t think these is quite what you had in mind, but I do recommend them.

Thanks, Jenetta, for joining us today.

jjames headshotAbout the Author:

Jenetta James is the nom de plume of a lawyer, writer, mother and taker-on of too much. She grew up in Cambridge and read history at Oxford University where she was a scholar and president of the Oxford University History Society. After graduating, she took to the law and now practises full time as a barrister. Over the years she has lived in France, Hungary and Trinidad as well as her native England.

Jenetta currently lives in London with her husband and children where she enjoys reading, laughing and playing with Lego. Suddenly Mrs. Darcy was her first novel. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter.

Interview with Paula Margulies, author of The Tao of Book Publicity

Book publicity is something book bloggers are well aware of these days, and even as many of us prefer to stick to reviews, many authors are relying on our blogs to get the word out about their books.

Paula Margulies, a publicist for more than two decades, has created a simple guidebook for authors, The Tao of Book Publicity.

About the Book: (GoodReads)

In The Tao of Book Publicity, publicist Paula Margulies outlines the basics of book promotion and explains how the business of publicizing a book works. Designed for beginning authors but also useful for those with some experience in book publishing, The Tao of Book Publicity provides information on the importance of writing a good book and the need for developing a platform, as well as how-to explanations for developing publicity material, including front and back cover text, press releases, Q&As, media and blog tour queries, and newsletter and media lists.

The Tao of Book Publicity also covers social media, book pricing and sales, book tours and media interviews, and author websites. In addition to explaining how book publicity works, this valuable handbook explores practical topics such as publicity costs, timing, and considerations when hiring a publicist.

Please give her a warm welcome.

You have been a book publicist for more than 25 years. What made you finally decide to write a guidebook on promotion for authors?

In the course of my publicity work, I’ve received calls from hundreds of authors, many of whom ask the same questions: When do I start my publicity campaign? How much should I plan to spend? Do I need a website? How do I build a platform? What price should I give my book? Do I have to use social media and,if so, which sites are best? Should I print a hardcover version, or will a paperback suffice? Do I need to enter contests? How can I get more reviews?

These are all important questions, and since so many authors seem to have the same concerns about their books, I decided to share what I’ve learned over the years as a publicist in one convenient, inexpensive resource guide.

The Tao of Book Publicity has a Zen look and feel to the cover and title. How does understanding the Tao principles help authors to promote their books?

I chose the Tao as a way of offering authors a practical philosophy on how they might approach book marketing. There are many authors who find promotion crass and time-consuming; a good majority would rather be writing than spending time trying to develop promotional material and schedules for themselves and their work. But I’ve found that book promotion can be a rewarding and fulfilling activity if done with the right perspective in mind.

As I describe in the book, most book publicity comes from a place of not-knowing; there are people we approach, for example, for reviews or interviews, but we cannot strong-arm those individuals into giving us what we want. Instead, we take the time to think about what our message is, who we are targeting with that message, and how to propose it in the most succinct, relevant, and motivating way we can. We then present our message (what most in my business call our “pitch”), and then follow-up with persistence to try to get a yes response. Our results are never guaranteed – it is up to the reporters or editors we contact to decide if the message we’re sharing is right for them. But when we come from a place of humility and unattachment, we tend to do a better job of both preparation (in which case, we usually achieve the goals we’re attempting) and managing our expectations.

What other aspects of book publicity to do you cover in the book?

I provide how-to explanations for developing publicity material, including front and back cover text, press releases, Q&As, media and blog tour queries, and newsletter and media lists. I also cover topics such as social media, book pricing and sales, book tours and media interviews, and author websites. In addition to explaining how book publicity works, I also discuss practical topics such as publicity costs, timing, and considerations when hiring a publicist; I’ve found that many authors want to know upfront about fees for services and what steps they should have completed before they contact a publicist like me.

If you have one piece of advice for new authors, what would it be?

That’s easy – write a good book!

Of course, that’s easier said than done. I’ve found that oftentimes authors, especially those who have chosen to self-publish, are in a rush to get their books out. In their hurry, they forgo important steps like work-shopping the book, spending time on revision, hiring a professional editor and cover designer, and developing their platforms. As a result, many of their books, sadly, don’t sell. If authors want their books to be well-received by booksellers, the media, and (most important) readers, they must take the time to carefully edit, polish, and package them well – there is no substitute for these steps in the publishing process.

Can you describe how an author might use this book as a guide to his or her own publicity plans?

Authors can read the chapters in any order they like (each chapter is designed to be read as stand-alone unit) and see what sounds as if it might be a good fit for them and their books. If something doesn’t sound right, they don’t have to use it. The information in the chapters is there to provide guidance and insight into what I believe are the common practices of most book publicists, but none of what’s there is meant to be a hard-and-fast prescription for any author’s individual book publicity plans.

Are you working on another book? If so, what can you tell us about it?

In addition to this latest book, I’m also the author of the short story collection, Face Value: Collected Stories, and two novels: Coyote Heart, which is a modern-day romance about a married woman who falls in love with a Pala Indian man, and Favorite Daughter, Part One, a first-person retelling of the life story of the famous Native American legend, Pocahontas. I’d like to get back to writing fiction and plan to spend the next year completing Part Two of Favorite Daughter.

Thanks, Paula, for spending time with us today.

Giveaway & Interview with Renée Beyea, author of Fine Stout Love

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Fine Stout Love and Other Stories by Renée Beyea is a collection of short stories based on Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and is part of the Pride & Prejudice Petite Tales series.  The second volume, What Love May Come and Other Stories, will be released winter 2016.

A Fine Stout Love.inddAbout the collection:

Discover what happens when Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy meet fancy and fantasy in this novella-length ensemble of Regency stories.

– What if two inexplicable trails of words led to the Meryton churchyard on the same blustery morning?
– What if Darcy stumbled across suggestive lines of verse following Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield?
– What if a rumored engagement so thoroughly shocked Lady Catherine that she could not interfere?
– What if Elizabeth learned the last man she would ever marry was the only man she could marry?
– What if every Bennet family member read the love poem Darcy intended only for his bride?

With all the intimacy and lyricism of a chamber concert, these five whimsical shorts will inspire the heart, prompt a smile, and entice readers to many happy returns.

Intrigued? I know I am.

Please give Renée Beyea a warm welcome.

When did you first read Pride & Prejudice? And what about the story stuck with you enough to write short stories about Jane Austen’s characters?

Credit goes to my mom for introducing me to Emma in fourth grade. I fell in love with Mr. Knightley and devoured Jane Austen’s oeuvre–including Pride & Prejudice–within the next few years. Since I loved fairy tales as a child, Pride & Prejudice initially enthralled me as a grown-up version of Cinderella and an escape to what seemed like a fairy tale world. It wasn’t until the many re-readings in high school and college that I began to appreciate Austen’s light touch in sketching characters, her sparkling dialogue, and the subtlety of her wisdom, wit, and humor. Though each reading brings new insights, these qualities have stayed with me over the years.

After so many decades reading Pride & Prejudice–not to mention wheedling friends and family into countless movie viewings–what joy was mine to stumble into the world of Jane Austen fan fiction! I was introduced once again through my mom, this time to Persuasion from Captain Wentworth’s point of view in Susan Kaye’s None But You. Retellings and variations sparked my imagination, and that’s when I began writing the short pieces that comprise A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories. Though I don’t seek to emulate Austen’s voice, I do strive to employ era-appropriate language and to honor those qualities I appreciated from the first–her canon characters, fresh dialogue, subtle humor, and naturally, a dash of fairy tale romance.

Many fans of Austen often do not like to read the Brontes.  Do you read the Brontes and enjoy their work? If not, why?

I do read and enjoy the Brontes, though not all of their works. Charlotte’s Jane Eyre and Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall are on my re-read list. Anne’s first novel, Agnes Grey, still languishes in my TBR pile. Charlotte’s Shirley and The Professor have yet to sufficiently pique my interest. As for Charlotte’s Villette and Emily’s Wuthering Heights, I’m prepared to admire them from a literary perspective, but I find them too dark, depressing, and disturbing to expect much pleasure from repeat visits. My approach to the Brontes’ novels is similar to how my husband and I approach movies. We enjoy diverse genres and savor a good drama, but for repeat viewing, nine times out of ten we’ll choose romantic comedy or action adventure. The Brontes’ works are dramas; Austen’s are romantic comedy.

Since I’m on a roll with comparisons… Comparing Austen and the Brontes is like comparing an airy chiffon pie with a dense flourless cake. Both delicious but for contrasting attributes. Or in terms of art, the Brontes paint with oils, layer upon layer of light and shadow skillfully executed–not unlike Helen Huntingdon’s talent in Wildfell Hall. By contrast, Austen sketches no less skillfully but provides just enough to tell the story and to color casts of enchanting characters. Austen leaves more to the imagination. She doesn’t indulge in lengthy moralizations or detailed descriptions. We don’t know what Longbourn house looks like, let alone Elizabeth Bennet, save for her beautiful dark eyes and light and pleasing figure. As a reader, I enjoy both methods, but as a writer, it’s Austen’s works that invite variations.

When working with someone else’s beloved characters, what do you keep in mind when writing new stories for them?  What are the challenges? advantages?

Austen variations come in as many flavors as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Some authors tweak the plot, some the characters, and some both. Each change is located along a spectrum of minor to major. Of course, every Austen reader will happily defend her or his favorite flavor–sometimes quite ardently. Where do I fall on this spectrum? As a reader, I can appreciate a fairly wide variety. As an author, I endeavor to keep the characters within the social mores and moral values of Austen’s milieu as well as in step with how she wrote them. Or at least in step with how I interpret her characterization, knowing full well readers will debate ceaselessly a range of interpretation.

Perhaps the greatest advantage to borrowing someone else’s characters is that they already exist in readers’ imaginations. Isn’t this in large part what fuels the seemingly insatiable appetite for Austen retellings and variations? Readers covet more time with the characters they’ve come to know and love. Names like Elizabeth, Darcy, and Mrs. Bennet serve as a kind of shorthand to their back stories and character traits. I’ve found this to be a tremendous boon in writing short fiction. A short story’s limited length and tight construction place relatively greater weight on each word choice, and I need not spend words introducing the cast. This also means readers are more swiftly immersed with beloved characters as they are plunged into new circumstances.

As is often the case, the corollary presents the greatest challenge. Because reader expectations already exist along a range of interpretation, those expectations are destined to be either satisfied or disappointed in a way that original characters are less apt to incite. Then there’s the challenge and limitation of creating characters consistent with the originals. Does Elizabeth speak and act with that “mixture of sweetness and archness” that makes it difficult to affront anybody, or does she cross the line into harshness or cruelty? Is Jane “firm where she feels herself to be in the right,” or does her gentleness make her seem a pushover? Austen had the advantage of writing when narrative, exposition, and omniscient narrators were de rigueur, but the burden is on today’s authors to show these subtle distinctions.

If you had to describe Mr. Darcy as readers know him, not as he is perceived by Elizabeth Bennet, what four words would you use and how did you come to choose those terms?

Only four words? You drive a hard bargain! One beauty of Austen’s writing is her restraint in Darcy’s portrayal, which only multiplies his mystique. Readers and Austen-inspired authors have the irresistible gratification of completing the picture, and we do so with an endless variety of media. Below are the four words that best capture my mental image. I’d love to hear which four words your readers would choose…

Proud:  Darcy is sometimes justified as shy and misunderstood, but Austen leaves little room for doubt that Darcy enters the story as proud and haughty. He takes pride in his heritage, his family, his station in society, his estate. As Charlotte says, he has an excuse to be proud. Really, can we blame him? Perhaps we wouldn’t blame him at all if his pride were as properly regulated as Darcy assures Elizabeth it is. We can laugh, even if Elizabeth does not, at the irony and his unwitting hypocrisy. Darcy’s pride continues to surface in the superiority of his perceptions and interactions–at least until we meet him again at Pemberley, having been properly humbled by Elizabeth’s refusal and learned his lesson.

Reserved:  While I won’t grant Darcy a pass for being shy and misunderstood, Austen does tell us he’s reserved, his manners are uninviting, and he’s continually giving offense. She sketches Darcy in contrast to his good friend. Bingley is effusive, gregarious, and charming–everyone’s a friend. Darcy on the other hand stands about and doesn’t care to dance or even to make small talk with people he doesn’t know. He explains himself to Elizabeth as not possessing such social skill. Only in his own circles, among his intimates, and at Pemberley does Darcy become less reserved. And on those lovely long rambles with Elizabeth near the end, her easy playfulness begins to soften his reserve, which only serves to whet readers’ appetites for more.

Reflective:  When Darcy is quiet, Austen frequently shows him watching and observing, or readers can reasonably make that inference. Darcy watches Elizabeth. He watches Jane’s interaction with Bingley. He observes the Bennet family’s behavior. He watches Collins tread on Elizabeth’s toes and his cousin Fitzwilliam flirt with her. Darcy does all this watching, but no matter what Elizabeth may think, the reader knows it’s not a vacuous stare. Austen tells us that Darcy is clever and boasts superior powers of understanding. So in those long silences his clever mind is occupied evaluating everything he observes and drawing conclusions. Not always accurate conclusions, mind. He determines that Elizabeth favors him while Jane doesn’t favor Bingley. Oops. But confronted with Elizabeth’s rejection, Darcy’s clever mind once again engages in reflecting on what she said, painful though her words are. And this time he determines that he’s the one who needs to change. That’s our hero.

Principled:  Late in the book, Darcy tells Elizabeth that he was “given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit.” But before we hear this confession from his mouth, we see Darcy’s principles in action. He honors the spirit of his father’s wishes for Wickham without violating his better informed conscience. Mrs. Reynolds confirms Darcy is conscientious in the management of his estate and respected by his tenants and servants. Darcy is committed to his sister’s care and earns consistent high praise for his efforts there. He’s a faithful friend. Misguided and influenced by selfish motives though Darcy may be, he still seeks to protect Bingley from a marriage of unequal affection. He abhors disguise and endeavors to correct Elizabeth’s misapprehensions. And Darcy owns it himself that he intervenes with Lydia and Wickham because he has Elizabeth’s interests at heart. Honor, integrity, selflessness, and generosity to name a few–what woman would not be won by the love of a tall, handsome, rich man motivated by such principles?

Do you read poetry?  Who or what collections would you recommend?

I do read poetry, though not as much as I did before children. Somehow the raucous joy of boys rocketing through my home isn’t particularly conducive to reflection. These days I treat poetry like espresso. When I need a quick shot, it’ll usually be old friends from the classics. Shakespeare’s sonnets are well-thumbed. I’m a huge fan of John Donne and Gerard Manley Hopkins, and both find passing reference in the first two volumes of my Pride & Prejudice Petite Tales. Sometimes I’m in the mood for the Brownings, Keats, or Dickinson. These poets also inspired the verses I wrote for A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories–poems with more traditional form, meter and rhyme, and thus more apt to have been composed by Elizabeth or Darcy.

In terms of contemporary poets, several of Jane Kenyon’s slim volumes populate my shelves. Let Evening Come moves me every time–I feel her words like sunset on an evening breeze. And while it’s not poetry, Annie Dillard’s prose in Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is often sublime and poetic. Her striking imagery, rich metaphors, and lyrical voice impact me like verse. I likewise relish applying poetic sensibility to writing prose fiction.

As for current poets, if the poet dances words onto the page and the reader dances them off, then occasionally I accept the invitation and take new verses for a turn about the room. Regretfully, it’s rarely long enough to find new favorites. So I’m not in a position to make recommendations, save to affirm experimenting, reading broadly, and sampling everything. In fact, Savvy Verse & Wit provides an excellent resource to do just that (thank you, thank you!). My taste may be to waltz and another’s may be to salsa, but you never know when you will chance into the perfect combination of words that makes your soul dance.

Thank you so much, Serena, for hosting me at Savvy Verse & Wit, stimulating my thoughts with your insightful questions, and for participating in the blog tour for A Fine Stout Love and Other Stories.

International giveaway: (8 books, including up to 4 paperback)

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Renee Beyea (author)About the Author:

Renée Beyea holds an undergraduate writing degree from Taylor University and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Seminary. She serves as full-time wife, mother to two sons, and ministry partner with her husband, an Anglican priest and chaplain. Her free time is devoted to crafting stories and composing poetry that delight the senses and touch the soul. Connect with her on Facebook.

Interview with Nadia Gerassimenko

National Poetry Month is in full swing, and I have a great interview with Nadia Gerassimenko for you today, and she’s sharing a poem with us as well.

She also was kind enough to post some of my own poems on her website. Feel free to check them out.

I hope you give her a warm welcome; she’s a stunning poet.

When did you know you were a poet and what has kept you writing?

I began writing since I was 14. I didn’t think of myself as a poet at that time, more like writing poetry was a form of creative expression that was easiest for me to deliver and let out. I was writing poems quite frequently until my early twenties. I was in a rut after that. I remember that period in my life had been the most overwhelming for me psychologically—trying to finish my Bachelor’s degree, working at the same time, figuring out my health issues, healing emotional hurts, and finding myself and my inner peace. It was very shaky. I just couldn’t express myself as freely as I had as a teenager. But fortunately, it was temporary. Life calmed down a bit in some aspects and at the same time I became better at managing pain and stress.

Though I do not write as often as I would like to nowadays, I feel that my creative stream is limitless and ever flowing. I’m not afraid that it will ever run out or that I may experience another writer’s block. I feel like it may happen, but I don’t let it get to me. Only when I turned 26 did I truly start considering myself a poet. It happened when I began working on my second chapbook a chair, a monologue that I started to feel truly proud of what I’m creating and slowly accomplishing. It’s not just spur of the moment kind of writing. There’s deliberate intention and planning involved. I want to let my pain out in such a way that not only does it mean something to me, but that it also touches someone else.

Some of the poems I’ve written for the book are okay, but they won’t end up in the final pages because they’re missing that raw, visceral and blunt but candid feeling I’m trying to pour out. Whilst there are those that will be in the book because I’ve written them with utmost care and preparation, edited them to perfection or to something that I’m fully satisfied with. I’ve asked other fellow poets and friends such as yourself to look over them and provide me with constructive feedback which has helped me tremendously to see it from an objective point of view, not just through my sometimes biased lens.

What are your favorite elements of poetry?

I love poems that experiment with structure where there are gaps between words or lines or verses. Not only are they lovely aesthetically, they also shape the poem into the main theme or create a feeling of tumbling down or a pause or silence. I also enjoy poems that don’t necessarily rhyme but that have flowing rhythm to them like in classical poetry. I think it’s quite an achievement when someone can write a piece that doesn’t use a patterned rhyming scheme but is still musical nonetheless. Also words that create euphony or even cacophony can enhance poetry to a different level, more experiential if you will.

List a few of your favorite poetry magazines?

I recently discovered Sea Foam Magazine, which I simply adore. Aside from poetry, they publish interesting interviews with artists, showcase gorgeous artwork. It’s a very dreamy, whimsical kind of literary magazine but also quite frank and unabashed. I also love The Writing Garden founded and run by a dear friend Suzy Hazelwood. She publishes poems and prose and mixed media by artists at all levels of their craftsmanship. Each issue is visually divine and is sometimes themed on purpose or coincidentally gathers beautiful works reflecting the same subject matter. I think it’s rather endearing and serendipitous when that happens. I love poetry curated by Luna Luna Magazine. It’s quite inventive, edgy, primeval.

What advice would you give to poets crafting their first collections?

I would say if you have an idea in mind, plan it all out, do some research if needed. Whether it be a poetry collection or a themed chapbook; whether you want to self-publish it or publish it with a small press; whether you want to edit it yourself or hand it over to a professional—those things are unavoidable and must be planned out and executed. Still don’t let that discourage you from writing but don’t just wander off when doing so.

Who are some of your favorite poets?

I don’t really have favorite poets amongst the greats while I do appreciate what they’ve contributed to our society. I do feel that my poet friends really inspire and empower me to work harder at my writing. And being able to turn to them for writing criticism is an honor and a blessing. Kate Bush influences my writing quite a bit. While not necessarily considered a poet in the conventional sense of the word, Kate Bush’s music and lyrics are rather poetic. Her work is so multifarious and enigmatic. It’s simply spellbinding.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAAlVAAAAJDNiODkzNDRhLWVjMTUtNDJlMy1iYmU0LTY0MDE5MmZlYjZlOQAbout the Poet:

Nadia Gerassimenko is a Media Relations Manager for Yeti Culture and Assistant Editor at Luna Luna Magazine by day, a moonchild and poet by night. Nadia self-published her first poetry collection Moonchild Dreams (2015) and hopes to republish it traditionally. She’s currently working on her second chapbook a chair, a monologue. Visit her at tepidautumn.net or tweet her at @tepidautumn.

Safe cocoon

Mama, I heard you and papa fighting today.
I couldn’t pick up on the words again,
But you were screaming, he was yelling.

Something shattered.
Something banged.
And you cried.

Mama, I haven’t heard papa’s voice in a while.
He used to read to me and his voice soothed me to sleep.
Now all I hear is your sad lullaby.

Whatever day.
Whatever hour.
You cry.

Mama, what is that reeking? What are you drinking, too?
What an unusual smell engulfing.
And it feels so hot all of a sudden.

I’m gasping for air.
I'm dazed and confused.
You laugh and cry.

Mama, what are you swallowing so fast?
It tastes so powdery and bitter.
My fragile tummy doesn’t agree.

I feel so sick.
So sleepy.
You stop crying.

Mama, it’s safe and warm in your cocoon.
As I fall deeply asleep,
I thank you for keeping me nestled.

Breathing in and out.
First heartbeats and last.
We sleep together.

Interview with Arne Weingart

I reviewed Arne’s collection Levitation for Agnostics in February, and was really impressed by his poems. He agreed to take part in the National Poetry Month celebration with an interview. Please give him a warm welcome.

1. Faith is a big part of your poems. How has that faith informed the poems in the collection Levitation for Agnostics?

It was never my intention to use faith as an organizing principle for the collection. But if I look at the book as a whole, I can see how individual poems tend to circle around the question of what one can or should believe in. I accept the idea that the need for belief is biologically hard-wired into human nature, so for me, certain things follow. Firstly, that organized religion is useful but inadequate. Secondly, that poetry and art are useful (although ultimately also inadequate)in addressing our collective spiritual need. This particular point of view is a kind of background noise for every poem I try to write.

2. Faith and religion can be very serious aspects of people’s lives, how does the humor you infuse your poems with change that perspective?

The difference between our very real and persistent spiritual needs and our success in satisfying them is the perfect set-up for a joke. Many jokes. Take my faith tradition, please (drum roll, rim shot)! In Judaism’s classical orthodox flavor, there are said to be 613 commandments that govern human conduct. However noble in conception, this is an obvious recipe for failure. And while attempts at “reformation” are laudable and inevitable, the gap between spirit and material world remains. I suppose you could define grace as our ability to balance within that gap; and humor as our appropriate response when grace fails us.

3. Levitation for Agnostics looks to be a first collection for you? How else do you spend your creative hours? Is poetry your first passion?

Yes, this is my first collection. Although I work in a “creative” field — graphic design — poetry is the one thing I am most capable of doing that satisfies my creative impulse. As mentioned above, I believe that poetry (and all art) has spiritual underpinnings that make it indispensable, if often misunderstood.

4. What advice would you give to poets crafting their first collections?

Write without particular focus on shaping a collection. At some point, stop and see what you’ve got. This will require help from other readers (and perhaps writers). This is in direct contradiction to many thematically coherent collections that began and ended as “projects” and that seem to be “about” something that can be concisely and confidently stated. First collections, however, should probably address the concerns of crafting an identifiable poetic voice, the one indispensable qualification for a poet, going forward.

5. Who are your favorite poets?

In no particular order and on this particular day: W. H. Auden, Wislawa Szymborska, W. S. Merwin, Mark Strand, Elizabeth Bishop, Tony Hoagland

About the Poet:

Born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and educated at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, Arne Weingart lives in Chicago with his wife Karen, where he is the principal of a graphic design firm specializing in identity and wayfinding. Recent poems have been published in Arts & Letters, Beecher’s Magazine, Coal Hill Review, Enizagam, Nimrod, Oberon, Plume, RHINO, Sow’s Ear Poetry Review, The Georgetown Review, The Massachusetts Review, and The Spoon River Poetry Review. His work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his book, “Levitation For Agnostics,” winner of the 2014 New American Press Poetry Prize, will be released in February, 2015.

NPMBlogTour2016

Interview with Kimberly Knutsen

As the holidays continue to approach, and things have gotten a bit off schedule in my house – at least reading wise — the forthcoming posts are expected to a bit more haphazard in topic than I would prefer.

Today, I have an interview with the author of The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath, Kimberly Knutsen.

About the Book from GoodReads:

Set in the frozen wasteland of Midwestern academia, The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath introduces Wilson A. Lavender, father of three, instructor of women’s studies, and self-proclaimed genius who is beginning to think he knows nothing about women. He spends much of his time in his office not working on his dissertation, a creative piece titled “The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath.” A sober alcoholic, he also spends much of his time not drinking, until he hooks up with his office mate, Alice Cherry, an undercover stripper who introduces him to “the buffer”—the chemical solution to his woes.

Wilson’s wife, Katie, is an anxious hippie, genuine earth mother, and recent PhD with no plans other than to read People magazine, eat chocolate, and seduce her young neighbor—a community college student who has built a bar in his garage. Intelligent and funny, Katie is haunted by a violent childhood. Her husband’s “tortured genius” both exhausts and amuses her.

Please give Ms. Knutsen a warm welcome:

Why Sylvia Plath? What is it about her that intrigued you to incorporate her journals into your novel?

As a writer, I was intrigued by the many facets of Plath’s personality: the good girl in Letters Home; the funny, snarky coed in the journals; the cool primeval persona of the Ariel poems; Esther, so mean and desperate and sad in The Bell Jar. The characters in The Lost Journals of Sylvia Plath—Wilson, his wife Katie, and her sister January—are also fractured due to childhood trauma and addiction. No matter how hard they try, they are unable to truly connect with another.

As far as the journals go, Wilson is rewriting Plath’s lost journals—the ones that went missing or were destroyed after her death—as his doctoral dissertation. A popular instructor of women’s studies who is beginning to think he knows nothing about women, he is bravely co-opting the voice of a fellow “tortured genius.” There’s just one catch: He spends most of his time not writing, and by mid-novel has come up with just one line: “Felt like singing today!”

What is your favorite Sylvia Plath poem and why?

I love “Elm.” The tree is magnificent in its dying. The imagery captures the fury and violence and horrifying beauty of life: “I have suffered the atrocity of sunsets./ Scorched to the root/ My red filaments burn and stand, a hand of wires.” Love it! “Elm” contains one of my favorite lines, which I used as an epigraph in my novel Violet: “Love is a shadow./ How you lie and cry after it.”

Have you written poetry? Why or why not.

I teach an introductory course in poetry and often do the exercises with the students, and I can say with authority that I am definitely not a poet, although my writing—the language and rhythm—can be very poetic. I’m always amazed at the work my college students produce. They have so much primal energy, and the key is to just help them harness it.

I did publish one poem in Hoot: http://www.hootreview.com/. They print poems on postcards, and provide audio of the poets reading on the website. I think my poem was a total of thirty words, and I must have spent hours recording myself reading it aloud in this strange, breathy voice. As soon as I pushed record on the phone, I’d panic and freeze: no inhalation, no exhalation. Just dumb, stunned silence. And then the voice. Like if a balloon could form words. Barely.

Work/Life balance is tough as a mother, can you offer any advice that has worked for you as an author, professor, and mother? What are your thoughts about women who want to take it all on and fail?

That’s an interesting question. We never ask men this question: How do you balance work and fatherhood? It’s a given that work is important and fatherhood will fall into place naturally.

Mothers, however, have impossible standards to live up to. We are responsible for every horrible thing our children do. We’re the life-givers and the destroyers. If our child is an addict, well, we must have enabled them by loving them too much, or else we traumatized them by not loving them enough. Working mothers come home from work and dive into the second shift—laundry, dishes, grocery shopping, the cat litter box—and a, we better not complain, and b, we better look good doing it.

With that said, I love being a mom. To me, motherhood is life (and I fully recognize that this is not necessarily true for others, nor should it be). I find that bitching and complaining is a great way to blow off steam and keep myself sane. I highly recommend it.

My advice for working mothers/writers: Create. If you can only write for twenty minutes in the bathroom while one child takes a bath and the other unrolls the entire roll of toilet paper, do it. I wrote my entire 570-page dissertation in coffee shops, and sometimes even in my car parked in a church parking lot, while paying a babysitter for those two hours of freedom. If you are blessed with artistic gifts, let them blossom. A silent writer is a life half lived, and a writer who writes is able to live life twice. Create teeny-tiny poems. Type them on a postcard. Record yourself reading them aloud. Don’t forget to breathe!

A final word on housekeeping. As a mom, I try to block out media messages that tell me how perfect my children and home and teeth and boobs should be. Where did this idea of having a showplace home come from? When I was a kid growing up in the 70s, houses were just houses, with the same pictures on the walls, year in and year out, and the same 1970s brown shag carpet, the same old furniture, the same old Tupperware. Nothing was fancy and nothing changed—not even the meals. I try to keep my home 70s style: clean enough, but certainly not pristine or fancy. There’s still the horrible carpet the elderly dog dribbles on and the mini-blinds that you all of a sudden realize are really disgusting. But how much does it matter in the end?

It’s not life or death. Dirty mini-blinds are not life or death. Creating, living life authentically, loving and helping others—this is what matters. Dirty mini-blinds and old carpet are way down on the list. (But you can see how much these mini-blinds are bothering me!)

How many writing projects do you work on at one time? Do you outline? What other practices did you learn at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop?

The most important thing I learned at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop was how to be an advocate for myself and my writing. Before you go, you’re usually the “star” of your writing program, and all the professors love you and you win all the awards, and you think you’re some kind of literary goddess! Riiight. Then you get to Iowa and you learn pretty quickly that everyone is a “star” and nobody thinks you or your writing are anything special, and you’re really nobody, and it’s a huge blow to your ego.

I loved when Hannah on Girls went to Iowa because it’s exactly like that: She got there and everyone hated her and her work, and there’s always one guy with three names, like Ethan Phillip Thomas, who all the professors love, and he’s the one that gets the agent and the book deal while still in the program, and wins the Michener award and the Stegner award, and this guy with the three names, this E.P.T., is definitely not you! As a writer, you can either crumble and quit or keep writing. Not for the attention and the awards and the praise, but for yourself, because you are a writer and writers write. Period.

At Iowa, I learned about rejection and disinterest, which is 99.9 percent of a writer’s life. But as I’ve said before, you only need one yes, so keep writing!

Oh, and to answer the question: I usually obsess about just one project at a time, and I do create a crazy, color-coded outline, but only near the end of the revision process. I go through each chapter and note symbols, themes, motifs, character arcs, etc. The outline is bright and colorful and shows how brilliant our subconscious minds are, and how clunky and obvious and downright dumb our conscious minds can be.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us today.

Interview with Kate Kerrigan

Kate Kerrigan is the author of Ellis Island, City of Hope, and Land of Dreams — a series of books I loved! She has two new books coming out The Miracle of Grace and Recipes for a Perfect Marriage.  Please give her a warm welcome today.

KerriganMiracleAbout The Miracle of Grace:

Grace’s mother Eileen is a great list maker, so when Grace walks into Eileen’s kitchen to drop off a postal package and sees her garish ‘To Do’ pad on the counter, she thinks nothing of it, until she sneaks a look. There, at No 8, ranked in importance well below bread, telephone bill and bins is ‘Tell G I have ovarian cancer, probably terminal’. Grace goes into shock, primarily at the thought that her mother is dying, but also at the fact that her mother simply couldn’t tell her to her face. Is their relationship really so bad?

Eileen has been brought up in rural Ireland in the 1950s, in thrall to the rules of her community – church first, then husband, then children. So she’s had little time for herself and even now finds it impossible to put her own problems and desires to the fore. It is only when Grace confronts her, that she is able to go back over her past, to her own childhood, her early marriage, and the birth of her cherished only daughter to find memories of happiness and unbearable tragedy that have coloured her life forever.

kerriganRecipesAbout Recipes for a Perfect Marriage:

Successful New York food writer Tressa Nolan has a great life — wonderful friends, a gorgeous apartment, and of course fabulous food — but the idea of turning forty alone scares her, so she marries the next man who asks: Dan, her building’s super. He’s handsome and he adores her, but soon after the wedding Tressa regrets her decision. Everything from Dan’s unsophisticated interests to his enormous (and intrusive) Irish-American family sets her teeth on edge. Why couldn’t she have the perfect marriage her grandparents had? What Tressa doesn’t know — what she only discovers when she reads her Grandma Bernadine’s journal-cum- recipe book — is that she’s following in Bernadine’s footsteps, and like all the best recipes, a perfect marriage calls for a long, slow simmer.

How do you come up with your ideas? Are they character or concept driven?

A bit of both. The concept comes first – but then once the characters present themselves and start to develop depth as they do in those early chapters, the story becomes theirs and they drive the narrative absolutely.

You often have dual timelines. Why is that? What is it about historical fiction that interests you so much?

I am fascinated by how the differences in our historical circumstances shape who we are and how we behave — especially in the way it affects our emotional landscapes. Stoicism, for instance, has gone way out of fashion as a way of being — yet it was a way of life for so many women, for so long — forced into unhappy marriages by religion for or utterly financially dependent on men they did not love. Yet — so much of what was good about value systems in the past: loyalty, a strong sense of identity, and place — still hold true today. I love drawing comparisons between how things were and how they are now and showing how while history may alter our circumstances, in the most real, important sense human beings never fundamentally change.

For all the freedom and money history has given us women in the western world — are we any happier now than our grandmothers were?

What’s your favorite part of the writing process?

Starting and finishing: one week at either end. Finishing is best. Honestly? The rest is pretty much just hard work: I write out of a compulsion to tell the story not because I enjoy the act of writing itself. The longer I do it – the less I feel I know about writing and the harder it gets! I get very close to my characters and I cry a lot. It’s an emotional rollercoaster — and I am always a bit sad to get off at the end — but relieved too.

Describe a typical day as a writer.

On a good day, I go into my accountants office, work from 9-5 and get 1,500 words written — this is what I intend every working day to be. However most days, I go into my accountants office, work from 9-5 and get 500 words written and know it’s not enough. On a bad day I get distracted by life. I chase around shopping, collecting kids, doing hideous admin., having lunch with my mother – I get nothing written and get whipped up into a state of blind panic at not having written anything. I have a lot of bad days.

Which authors inspire you?

People who write from the heart: Marian Keyes, Patrick McCabe – a lesser known but brilliant Irish writer called Frank Ronan. Probably the biggest influences over my lifetime as a reader and writer have been Agatha Christie for plot and PG Wodehouse for his vocabulary and use of language.  I never read historical fiction — I don’t have the confidence! However — for pleasure and relaxation I rarely read anything other than contemporary thrillers — David Balducci is my current thrill!

Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Just write, write, write – don’t be discouraged and keep going. Writing is 1% talent and 99% hard work and tenacity. I found writing groups and courses fantastic in my pre-published days. It’s not always easy to motivate yourself and a good writing group can really give you the encouragement and support you need.

What do you hope readers will take away from your books?

Identification with the characters and at least one lesson they can relate to their own lives.

Thanks so much, Kate, for stopping by and sharing your thoughts on dual narratives, your favorite authors, and writing.

Interview: A Conversation with Juliette Wells for 200th Anniversary of Emma

Juliette Wells is the editor and introducer of EMMA: 200th-Anniversary Annotated Edition (Penguin Classics Deluxe Edition; on-sale September 29, 2015; 9780143107712; $16.00). Please give her a warm welcome.

When we celebrate the 200th anniversary of EMMA, what in particular are we celebrating? What’s new about this edition?

We’re celebrating the 200th anniversary of Emma’s original publication, in London in December, 1815. The date of publication is a little confusing because “1816” was printed on the title page of the first edition of the novel, but it was actually released in December, 1815. I think this gives us the right to celebrate for a whole year!

And what better way to celebrate than to re-read Emma, or read it for the first time? Our 200th-anniversary annotated edition has everything you need, all in one place, to help you appreciate this wonderful novel. You can immerse yourself in Austen’s world and also have, right at your fingertips, explanations of some of the elements of the novel that tend to trip up or puzzle today’s readers.

In the Austen canon, what would you say makes EMMA special and unique?

Emma is special because it’s the capstone of Austen’s career as an author. She had already published three novels (Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park), and she was at the very top of her game as a writer. She didn’t know it, of course, but Emma would be the last book she saw through to publication. When Austen died in July 1817, she left two essentially completed novels (Northanger Abbey and Persuasion), which her brother published at the end of that year. So Emma is the last Austen novel that was published in the exact form that she herself approved.

Emma is also special because it’s the most perfect example of Austen’s particular genius as an author, which is (I think) to create a recognizable, engaging fictional world from the slenderest of materials. She writes about everyday life and ordinary people—you won’t find kings and queens in her novels, or ghosts or vampires. Her effects are wonderfully subtle.

What was the publishing process like when EMMA was first published? How was the novel received critically? Was Austen as popular in her own day as she is today?

The publishing process was recognizable in some ways and very different in others. Austen didn’t have a literary agent; at that time, authors dealt directly with publishers. With Emma, she chose a new, more prestigious publisher—John Murray—than she had used for her three earlier novels, and she negotiated hard for a good contract with him. As authors are today, Austen was responsible for proofreading and approving copy before publication. Since being a published author was considered not so respectable for an unmarried woman, Austen chose to remain anonymous on her title pages throughout her lifetime. Emma identifies her as “the author of Pride and Prejudice.” Her identity wasn’t made publicly known until after her death.

Like Austen’s earlier novels, Emma was praised by reviewers, who appreciated Austen’s ability to convey a very realistic fictional world. Austen wasn’t a bestseller in her day; then as now, thrillers, adventure stories, and romances outsold quiet literary fiction. But Austen did have the satisfaction of knowing, in her lifetime, that readers appreciated her work. In addition to reading reviews, she kept track of the responses of her friends and family, which offer a wonderful glimpse into what everyday readers of Austen’s own time thought of Emma. Some of what they liked and didn’t like may be very familiar to us!

One of your specialties as a professor of English is how Jane Austen’s work continues to appeal to people, how it remains at the forefront of pop culture conversation. Last year, Alexander McCall Smith updated EMMA, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” hits the big screen in 2016, and movie and TV versions of Austen continue to draw viewers. Why do you think we keep updating and adapting Austen? What are your favorite adaptations or updates, and what makes them successful?

Austen really is endlessly adaptable, much like Shakespeare! You can transpose her stories and her characters to other places and times, and they still work. My own favorite creation inspired by Austen is Amy Heckerling’s Clueless, from 1995. Clueless is a joy to experience, and smart too, much like an Austen novel.

I’m also a big fan of Sense and Sensibility, also from 1995, for which Emma Thompson wrote the screenplay. Experiencing Austen through the eyes of a witty, thoughtful contemporary woman—it doesn’t get any better than that! I like Karen Joy Fowler’s novel The Jane Austen Book Club, from 2004, for the same reason—an experienced writer chooses to think about how Austen’s works matter to us today, and takes us along for the ride. Lost in Austen, the British miniseries from 2008, is also a big favorite of mine. A rabid Austen fan finds her way into the world of Pride and Prejudice and messes it up. It’s a hoot to see the Austen characters we know so well doing and saying things that they NEVER would have done or said in the original novel.

I think TV and movie adaptations of Austen are so popular for two main reasons. They’re beautiful to watch, no question. And they offer a respite—which a lot of people of all ages value—from the loud, fast, scary, stuff that much of mainstream entertainment is these days. The tricky part comes, sometimes, when someone knows and loves Austen through the films and then goes to pick up one of the novels, only to discover that the reading experience is a lot more complex and challenging than the viewing experience. I had those first-time readers of Austen very much in mind when creating this new edition of Emma.

What is it like to prepare a new edition of a book that’s so well-known and exists in many editions? What kind of research did you do? Did anything you learned during the process surprise you?

It was really important to me to create a truly new approach to Emma—a welcoming, reader-friendly approach. Excellent editions of Emma already exist for scholars and for devoted “Janeites.” With this anniversary edition, I wanted to open Austen up to people who hadn’t given her a try before, and to support their reading experience by using everything I know from years of teaching undergraduates and from talking with everyday readers. I certainly reached for plenty of scholarly and reference sources on my shelves, but I’d say my most important preparation was to have built up, over time, a sense of what readers are curious about and what frustrates them in their first encounter with an Austen novel. And, through my teaching, I’ve had a lot of practice at explaining historical concepts in an accessible way.

I also had the huge pleasure of re-reading Emma myself, slowly, with pencil in hand, making lists of topics to cover in my contextual essays and marking words that would likely be unfamiliar to present-day Americans. By doing this, I developed a much deeper appreciation of Austen’s artistry with words. This surprised and delighted me—I would have said I appreciated her artistry plenty before! But it wasn’t until I was trying to figure out how to convey the meaning of a particular phrase that I realized how much meaning she packs in with her clever, economical word choices.

Thinking about readers’ experience with Emma also shaped how the contextual material is presented in this new edition. In my experience, many ordinary readers, and even college students too, are put off by footnotes, or at best ignore them. So we decided instead to group topics together in contextual essays, which are easier—and, I hope, more fun—to read. Here too my experience explaining historical concepts And, there’s no question, the gorgeous cover by Dadu Shin is a beautiful invitation to pick up this Emma!

The illustrations for this edition are drawn from historical copies of Emma in the Jane Austen Collection at Goucher College, where you teach. Can you tell us more about that collection? What is it, exactly?

The Jane Austen Collection at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland began as the passion project of an alumna of the college from the 1920s, Alberta Hirshheimer Burke. Alberta loved, loved, loved Jane Austen’s writings and decided that her own purpose in life was to gather as much material as possible relating to Austen. So Alberta bought first and rare editions and even some manuscripts—such as letters in Austen’s handwriting—all of which she felt brought her closer to her beloved author. The images in our new edition reproduce turn-of-the-twentieth century illustrations of Emma by English and American artists, from books that Alberta owned, and which she bequeathed to her alma mater when she died in 1975. (Her manuscripts went to the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York.)

Alberta also cared deeply about ephemera with an Austen connection, such as newspaper and magazine articles, which she preserved in ten overstuffed scrapbooks. So our Austen Collection at Goucher is a terrific resource for popular culture studies as well as book history.

As a college professor, what’s your favorite aspect of teaching Austen? Do you face any challenges in interesting students in her writings?

Absolutely the best part of teaching Austen is that so many students are enthusiastic about studying her writings. She is an easy sell! Shakespeare is the only other English writer who has a draw like hers. And Austen has the advantage that her life story as a woman writer is especially appealing. Many of my students are creative writers themselves and find Austen’s confidence and perseverance to be very inspiring.

That said, I do often encounter people—students and ordinary readers—for whom Austen just seems unappealing. Maybe her novels seem girly; maybe they seem awfully full of privileged white people (not untrue); maybe the sentences or paragraphs are just too long. Stephen King said recently in a New York Times Book Review that he had never read any Austen, and I feel it’s a real shame that a great writer like him has missed a great writer like her! Maybe I’ll have to send him this new Emma and see if he can get into it.

I love it that everyone who reads Jane Austen has her or his own ideas about what’s important and what’s interesting. Some readers gravitate towards her humor, while for others, the morality really resonates. Pretty much all of us can find at least one character who reminds us of someone we know—and we’re lucky if it’s a character who’s nice!

Do you think we have a modern-day equivalent of Jane Austen? Or do you have any “further reading” suggestions for Austen fans who’ve read all of her books a thousand times and are looking for something new?

I love to read contemporary novels and memoirs, and I always keep an eye out for hints that an author is influenced by or interested in Austen. I recently re-read Allegra Goodman’s novel The Cookbook Collector and really appreciated how she weaves in elements from Emma as well as from her more obvious place of inspiration, Sense and Sensibility. I also particularly like that Alison Bechdel, author of the graphic-format memoir Fun Home and the Dykes to Watch Out For comics, gives several shout-outs to Austen. Flyover Lives, Diane Johnson’s hybrid family history / memoir, includes a fascinating account of what Johnson’s foremothers in America were up to at the same time that Austen was writing about much more privileged women in England.

I’d also warmly recommend the novels of Barbara Pym, a 20th-century English writer. Pym’s dry humor and close observation of everyday people ally her very closely with Austen. And it’s always rewarding to read, or re-read, 19th-century novels by authors who knew and loved Austen’s writings. In that category, I’d especially recommend Elizabeth Gaskell (start with Cranford) and George Eliot (outside of Austen, Middlemarch is my all-time favorite novel).

And, finally, I’d say that Austen lovers are the best people to ask about what to read next! Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot of shout-outs for the novels of Anthony Trollope, so I may have to get cracking on his enormous oeuvre . . .

Thank you, Juliette, for spending time with us today.  This is going to be a beautiful book with deckle edge — one of my favorites.