Happiness is a Trip to Target

Sometimes you never know how much you enjoy doing something until you can’t do it anymore.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been hunkered down in my home for the last year, only leaving for the essentials. For most of the last ten months, my world has consisted of my home, the path I walk my dogs down three times a day, and the grocery store. That’s it.

So when my grocery store stopped carrying my preferred brand of dog food, I had to get online and try to find it somewhere else. Target came through for me. Their online inventory showed they had five bags in stock.

Bravely, daringly, I donned nitrile gloves and two masks, and drove to Target last week. My plan was to go directly to the dog food aisle, grab a bag of food, zoom through checkout, and be back in my car before any germ, virus, or lint had a chance to settle on me.

But a funny thing happened when I got inside the store. As I walked past one of my formerly favorite aisles—filled with stationary, journals and office supplies—I heard a siren song I could not resist.

Short story, short: I ended up buying (in addition to dog food) three journals and three matching pens. Aren’t they lovely?

And the really amazing thing was how happy these simple journals and pens made me feel!

Until I saw them, I didn’t realize how much I missed shopping; how good it used to feel to wander through a store, looking at pretty things, wondering how they’d look in my house, or getting inspired to use them as a starting point to create something fresh on my own.

Buying these journals and pens reminded me of all that; and reminded me that one day I’ll get to enjoy shopping again. Just not yet. In the meantime, I’m happy with my new purchase. I keep looking at them and wondering how I’ll use them, and that makes me happy, too.

Thanks, Target, for making me happy.

What made you happy last week?

HEAs for Tragic Characters

Fiction writers are clever people. They just are.

I’m frequently impressed by their ingenuity. There’s nothing I like better than to begin reading a novel—smugly thinking that I’ve already figured out the ending—only to discover the author has crafted a plot that takes a creative turn I hadn’t anticipated.

And aren’t stories with a twist the best kind of stories?

I’ve been reading a series of novels that feature the kinds of twists I’m talking about. Written by award-winning, best-selling authors, each book in the series offers a new take on a classic character from literature.

For starters, each novel is set in Georgian England (my favorite place and time!) and retells a tragic character’s story so he or she has a happily-ever-after ending.

Think about the classic characters who fell from grace because of their greed, envy, misplaced loyalties, or just plain poor decisions: the big bad Sheriff of Nottingham from Robin Hood; or tortured, brooding Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights. Do they deserve to have their stories retold with a happy ending?

The answer is, Yes, they do!!

Here are the books in the series so far:

The Monster Within, The Monster Without
Author Lindsay Downs retells the story of Frankenstein..

.
When bodies start turning up in Whitechapel, Miss Steen returns to London with Lord Cartwright and the Countess of Harlow as her chaperone to solve the murders. Little does she realize she will be introduced to the last person she wants to meet — and hunting down the murderers proves a lot more difficult than they had anticipated.

I Shot the Sheriff
Regina Jeffers reimagines the story of the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood

.
William de Wendenal, the notorious Sheriff of Nottingham, has come to London, finally having wormed his way back into the good graces of the Royal family. Yet, not all of Society is prepared to forgive his former “supposed” transgressions, especially the Earl of Sherwood.

However, when de Wendenal is wounded in an attempt to protect Prince George from an assassin, he becomes caught up in a plot involving stolen artwork, kidnapping, murder, and seduction that brings him to Cheshire where he must willingly face a gun pointed directly at his chest and held by the one woman who stirs his soul, Miss Patience Busnick, the daughter of a man de Wendenal once escorted to prison.

The Colonel’s Spinster
Author Audrey Harrison gives Pride and Prejudice’s Colonel Fitzwilliam the story he deserves.

.
Colonel Fitzwilliam is a second son, often overshadowed by his titled, older brother and his cousin, Mr. Darcy. Returning from Waterloo, he knows it is time to find a wife with a healthy dowry, but he longs for a love match. Unfortunately for Fitzwilliam, love doesn’t put food on the table.

Miss Prudence Bamber has never known her mother’s family. A woman with her own mind and full life, she indulges her father’s wish to visit her long-lost relations. Mr. Bamber hopes his daughter will find a husband; she wishes nothing more than to find out more about her mother’s history. It turns out to be a journey she won’t forget in a hurry.

Fated Hearts
Alina K. Field retells the story of Macbeth

.
Plagued by hellish memories and rattling visions of battle to come, a Scottish Baron returning from two decades at war meets the daughter he denied was his, and the wife he divorced, and learns that everything he’d believed to be true was a lie. What he can’t deny is that she’s the only woman he’s ever loved. They’re not the young lovers they once were, but when passion flares, it burns more hotly than ever it did in their youth.

They soon discover, it wasn’t fate that drove them apart, but a jealous enemy, who played on his youthful arrogance and her vulnerability. Now that old enemy has resurfaced, more treacherous than ever. When his lady falls into a trap, can he reach her in time to rescue this love that never died?

 

The Redemption of Heathcliff
Author Alanna Lucas offers a new take on the haunting love story of Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw

.
Her wild ways tamed, Catherine Earnshaw has launched into London society. Only none of her marriage-mart suitors excite her because her heart still lies with another; whatever happened to Heathcliff, her childhood soul mate?

Markus Bell left Yorkshire to find his true identity and turn a fortune. Now the talk of the ton, he has Catherine in his sights, not to woo her but to seek revenge; he can’t forgive how she spurned him.

Catherine is puzzled where the gossip dogging her through the season comes from. Until she meets Markus, who’s as dark and devilishly handsome as her Heathcliff, and her world is turned upside down. Markus is her Heathcliff, she’s sure of it, just as she suspects he’s behind the rumors. What is she to do when her reputation is almost in tatters, yet her love for him is as strong as it ever was when they roamed the moors together all those years ago?

Captain Stanwick’s Bride
Author Regina Jeffers retells Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish”

.
Captain Whittaker Stanwick has a successful military career and a respectable home farm in Lancashire. What he does not have in his life is felicity. Therefore, when the opportunity arrives, following his wife’s death, Stanwick sets out to know a bit of happiness, at last—finally to claim a woman who stirs his soul. Yet, he foolishly commits himself to one woman only weeks before he has found a woman, though shunned by her people and his, who touches his heart. Will he deny the strictures placed upon him by society in order learn the secret of happiness is freedom: Freedom to love and freedom to know courage?

See what I mean about clever writers? I love the idea of giving these beloved characters a chance at happiness, and the romantic streak in me appreciates the beautiful love stories these wonderful authors have created.

I think anyone who loves to read can think of a tragic character or two they’d like to see reformed and given a chance at true love. What about Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice? Or Jay Gatsby from The Great Gatsby? Or poor doomed Ophelia from Hamlet?

Which tragic character from literature would you like to see find true love and have a happy ending? 

My Royal Pen-Pal, Prince Charles

I can’t remember when exactly I first became enchanted by all things English, but my obsession had to have started when I was pretty young.

By the time I reached my early teens, I was a bigger fan of the Beatles and England’s royal family than I was of any American entertainer I could name.

In 1969 I was 14 years old, and it seemed to me the most natural thing in the world to follow all the news that year about the royal family’s plans to celebrate Prince Charles’ 21st birthday.

I knew all about the preparations—that Prince Charles admired Mozart, so violin maestro Yehudi Menuhin was engaged to play Mozart’s masterpieces at his party. And that Charles was an amateur cellist, so Maurice Gendron—the world’s premier cellist at the time—would also play. To me, it all sounded elegant and lovely and veddy, veddy British.

So I did what any royalty-obsessed 14 year old American girl would do. I sent Prince Charles a birthday card. And I didn’t tell anyone what I’d done.

At 14 I didn’t know anything about postage costs, and I’m pretty certain I dropped the card in a mailbox with only a single U.S. postage stamp affixed to the envelope. Kudos to our postal system at the time (and to the U.K.’s as well) because my card arrived at Buckingham Palace (probably with postage due) in time for Prince Charles’ birthday on November 14, 1969.

How do I know it arrived? Because I received a reply.

A month after Prince Charles’ birthday shindig, I came home from school to find this waiting for me:

At first I didn’t know what it was, so I was a little rough when I tore open the envelope. But when I saw the letter inside, I was first surprised, then astonished.

Never in my wildest fourteen-year-old dreams did I expect to receive a reply to the birthday card I sent!

I showed the letter to my mother when she got home from work, and she promptly carried the letter up and down the street to show all the neighbors.

Heaven only knows if Prince Charles ever actually saw the card I sent, or if my card went directly into the rubbish bin once his secretary made a note of its receipt; but the important thing for me was that I received a reply. The whole experience had such an impact on me, I’ve kept the letter all these years with just a few other treasured mementos from childhood.

That’s the story of how December 11 became something of a special anniversary for me (since that was the postmark date on the envelope). But more important, it’s the date that marks the end a two-month long, two-item pen-pal correspondence I had with Prince Charles that made me feel special, and earned me thirty minutes of fame in my neighborhood.

 

 

It’s Banned Books Week; You Know What To Do

Recognize any of these book titles?

Each of these books was banned or under consideration to be banned in the United States of America.

If you love to read, you already know about the transformative power of books.

You also know how to take a book from a store shelf, skim the first few pages, and put it back as you say to yourself, “No, that book’s not for me.”

And yet there are people in this world who want to take that experience away; people who want to substitute their own judgment for yours, and tell you what you can and should read.

The ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom tracks challenged and banned books, and has some interesting statistics and graphics on the topic, which you can view on their website.

You can also visit BannedBooksWeek.org to see a schedule of events and read-alongs being held this week.

Banned Books Week may seem like an obscure cause to celebrate, but for me it’s an important one. Among other things, it serves as a reminder to me to support authors who have been challenged—and sometimes vilified—for writing the stories that were in their hearts.

I hope you’ll join me and tune in to Banned Books Week, and celebrate your right to read the books you love.

 

 

 

 

A Georgian Staycation

Yesterday I went to the dentist, which was pretty exciting when you consider it’s the only planned outing I’ve had during the entire month of August.

With the exception of a couple of visits with my son and grand-dog, weekly trips to the grocery store, and daily walks for fresh air and exercise, I have made it my mission to stay at home, where I know it’s safe.

But that mission may soon change. My home state has been documenting a promising trend: a decline in the number of new COVID19 cases, as well as hospitalization rates. I see that as a good sign, and I wonder: Come September or October, will it be safe to venture out a bit further afield than the one square mile that surrounds my house?

I’m not thinking about taking a “real” vacation or heading off to some crowded resort, but if things continue to improve, a staycation might be in order. I could take my cue from Jane Austen, who knew all about staycations.

A view of Bywell Castle, Northumberland, by George Fennel Robson.

When Jane Austen began writing Pride and Prejudice in 1796, Europe was at war. British citizens were cut off from their usual tourist destinations on the Continent. If they wanted to travel, they had to be content with exploring the architecture and delights of nature to be found at home.

Whitton, by Humphry Repton.

That may be why Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner chose a pleasure tour of the Lake District for their summer travels in Pride and Prejudice, and they invited Elizabeth Bennet to come along.

Elterwater and Langdale Pikes, Westmoreland.

Other Britains had similar ideas. It soon became the popular thing to stay in England and visit spa towns and seaside resorts, the Lake and Peak Districts, Devon and Cornwall, Wales and Scotland.

Hillsborough Head near Ilfracombe, Devon, by John Frederick Tennant.

From all those domestic staycations sprouted a new industry: travel guides. One guidebook by Thomas West became a best seller.

Title Page for A Guide to the Lakes by Thomas West (1778)

West not only provided directions on how to reach some of the most popular destinations, he made a practice of describing “stations” where tourists could achieve the best and most picturesque views of landscapes and stately homes. Here’s one example:

Proceed through rocky fields and groves to Holker, one mile, the seat of the right honourable Lord George Cavendish; the carriage road is by Cark-Hall. At the top of the hill, there opens a fine view of Furness. Holker-Hall lies at your feet, embosomed in wood; on the left Ulverston bay opens into the great bay and is four miles over. The coast is deeply indented, and the peninsulas are beautifully fringed with wood.

Just as Elizabeth and the Gardiners set off “in pursuit of novelty and amusement” in Pride and Prejudice, Georgians flocked to to the countryside, where they visited monasteries and medieval ruins.

Tintern Abbey, by Frederick Calbert.

Derbyshire was particularly popular with tourists because it offered stately homes (like Chatsworth and Hardwick Hall) with the unmatched scenery of the Peaks.

Chatsworth House, Derbyshire.

Some grand estates received so many visitors they printed their own pamphlets so people could take self-guided tours. And historical sites, like Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, suffered when overly enthusiastic visitors chipped off pieces of stone to take home as souvenirs.

A view of Stonehenge, 1744.

If things keep going well in my home state, I just might take a page out of Jane Austen’s proverbial tour book and plan a staycation of my own.

I think I’ll start small and visit a place that isn’t too far from home. How does an afternoon at the zoo sound to you?

Change is Good

As if 2020 hasn’t already proved that anything can (and will!) happen, I’ve made yet another life change!

Earlier this week I made the decision to leave Austen Authors.

I anticipate the posts I wrote for that site will soon be deleted, but if you enjoyed them, fear not. I’ll be re-posting them here on my blog in the near future. Stay tuned!

Pride and Prejudice and My Fantasy Library

I’ve been pretty quiet here on my blog for the last few months, but there’s a reason for that (as the saying goes). Today I’m on Austen Authors talking about a big life change I made and how it impacts one of my favorite fantasies. Just click on the image below to read on:

Lydia Bennet: She’s Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No

Hello, Austen Lovers! Can you believe the month of May is coming to an end? Sometimes it seems time is passing so slowly; and yet, we’re nearing the half-way mark of 2020 with surprising speed!

In my home state of Colorado we are still living under quarantine rules, although some restrictions have been relaxed. Now we can visit a salon to get a haircut (which I haven’t yet done, so I’m rockin’ a ponytail), and this week restaurants opened with serious limitations.

Since I have an underlying health condition to consider, I am still staying at home, where I know I’ll be safe. To pass the time, I’ve worked jigsaw puzzles, painted the entire interior of my house, and brushed up on my conversational Spanish skills.

I re-read Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, and last week I watched a favorite old Hollywood musical, Oklahoma!

Now, maybe I’ve been under quarantine too long, but I hadn’t watched the movie for very many minutes before I began to notice elements of the story that reminded me of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

If you haven’t yet seen it yet, the film centers on the romance between farmer Laurey Williams and cowboy Curly McLain in 1907 Oklahoma Territory.

Curley and Laurey, singing their hearts out in Oklahoma!

As usual, their course of true love does not run smooth, due in part to a socially outcast farmhand named Jud Fry, who has the hots for Laurey. I confess he reminded me of Mr. Collins’ pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet, especially when Laurey says of Jud:

“He makes me shiver ever’ time he gits close to me.”

In the film, Laurey has a good friend named Ado Annie Carnes, a boy-crazy farmer’s daughter who loves cowboy Will Parker, but can’t stop herself from seeking attention from other men.

As Ado Annie explains to Laurey: “I’m just a girl who cain’t say no.”

Wasn’t that Lydia Bennet’s problem, too? Both Ado Annie and Lydia where raised in good families, and both were taught right from wrong. Yet when Ado Annie sang these lyrics in Oklahoma!, I couldn’t help but think of Lydia Bennet:

It ain’t so much a question of not knowin’ what to do
I knowed what’s right an’ wrong since I’ve been ten.
I heared a lot of stories an’ I reckon they are true
About how girls are put upon by men.

I know I mustn’t fall into the pit
But when I’m with a feller
I fergit!

A few verses later, Ado Annie chirps:

Ev’ry time I lose a wrestlin’ match.
I have a funny feelin’ that I won!

Despite her love for Will Parker, Ado Annie juggles a romance with Ali Hakim, the traveling peddler who promises to take Annie “to paradise.” But what Ali really means is, he wants Ado Annie to spend a few hours with him in a hotel room in the next town.

Ali Hakim, Ado Annie, and Will Parker.

Just as Lydia Bennet thought there wouldn’t be any harm in running off with Mr. Wickham, Ado Annie considers joining Ali Hakim on that trip to “paradise” he promised. And when her father finds out about it, and realizes Ali has compromised his daughter, Mr. Carnes forces him to offer Ado Annie marriage.

Ali put it this way:

I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father’s shotgun.

Shades of P&P! Lydia Bennet had a sort of shotgun wedding of her own after she ran off to London with Mr. Wickham; and, just like Ado Annie, Lydia was shameless in telling everyone she knew how her wedding came about, causing Elizabeth to scold her:

I do not particularly like your way of getting husbands.

I won’t give away the ending of Oklahoma! for those who haven’t seen it, but since it’s a Hollywood musical from the 1950s, you can be sure there are plenty of happy endings to go around, just like in P&P.

And this weekend, I plan to treat myself to another old movie—most likely a Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers musical from the 1930s.

Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in Swing Time (1936).

I wonder if I’ll spot some parallels to Austen’s novels in that movie, too?

Are you like me? Do you see bits of your favorite Jane Austen novels in our modern movies and TV shows?

Do you have favorite movies you like to watch over and over again?

The Magic of 45 Words

It’s often said that a simple act of kindness can make a tremendous difference in a person’s life. I’m here to tell you it’s true.

“Kindness” doesn’t have to come in large gestures. You don’t have to donate a million dollars to a charity to be considered kind.

In fact, I’d argue the greatest acts of kindness come in small, bite-size, everyday doses that take only a moment or two of the giver’s time, but make all the difference in the life of the recipient.

Here’s what I mean:

As an author, I had a pretty good 2019 (more about that in my next post), but toward the end of the year I was laboring to finish a Regency romance. I started out liking it very well, and I made good progress on my word count and finished scenes.

But once I’d written about 80% of the book, I started to have serious doubts that anything I’d written was even passably good. Then I began to tell myself the same things I always tell myself about my stories:

“This is horrible.”

“No one wants to read this.”

“If anyone does read this, they’ll hate it, and give it a one star review, and I’ll never sell another book again.”

But this time those self-doubts wouldn’t go away. I started to fret and worry about the characters, the plot, and the setting of the story. Every time I sat down to write, I felt as if I were slogging through knee-deep mud. I struggled to type even a sentence. I felt as if the book would never be done and I seriously considered abandoning it.

Then, right after the New Year I received this direct message on Twitter:

I can assure you without hesitation this message is one of the best late Christmas presents I ever received.

Ever!!

I don’t know how long it took the sender to compose her message. Seconds maybe? Perhaps minutes?

But her kind words of encouragement and thanks meant so much to me, and put me right back on track.

And guess what? I finished the book! That reader’s kindness worked like magic in helping me regain my writer’s mindset so I could complete the story I was working on. I will always be grateful to her.

I’m also on the look-out for opportunities to spread my own version of a kind word to another author; to tell her (or him) how much I enjoyed her book and look forward to reading her next one.

I’m not talking about leaving an anonymous book review, although they’re important (every writer knows our careers live and die by some mysterious book review algorithm that no one understands). Instead, I’m talking about actually reaching out to another writer directly. And every time I do so, I’ll have in the back of my mind the Twitter message I received and the difference it made for me.

How about you? Have you ever been the recipient of a simple act of kindness that made a big difference in your life?

Guys Who Read

In this post I’m going way to take a break from my usual Regency/Jane Austen topics, and linger a while in our modern world.

If you’ve been following me on this blog or on social media, you already know I love to read.

I always seem to have a book in my hand, or in my purse, or in my car, so I can make ready use of any free moment to get “just one more chapter” in.

About a week ago I realized something odd: When I think of avid readers, my mind naturally goes toward women. When I want to talk about a book, I talk about it with my girlfriends.

When I think of book clubs, I gravitate toward book clubs made up of women.

But the truth is, men read a lot, too.

Want proof? There’s an Instagram account titled “Hot Dudes Reading” you need to visit.

The account is aptly named. I didn’t have to scroll far to find plenty of examples of attractive men with books in their hands.

There are photos of military guys reading . . .

And guys reading in libraries.

There are photos of dudes reading while listening to music …

… and others who read while lowering their carbon footprint.

Some of my favorite photos are of guys who clearly get into the books they’re reading. They show it by biting their nails . . .

. . . secretly wiping away a tear . . .

. . . and holding the book a little closer as the story gets tense.

And then there’s this dude:

What could be sexier than a handsome guy reading a book while taking flowers to someone he loves?

The answer is this guy:

Oh, my heart! Yes, he is definitely a “hot dude reading,” and I’m a little bit in love with his pup, too.

I’d like to point out that viewing the photos on this Instagram account expanded my thinking considerably. I’m now much more aware of the fact that women don’t hold a monopoly on reading good books; and the next time there’s an opening in my book club, I’m going to suggest a guy fill it.

If you’d like to expand your horizons, too, and see more photos of Hot Dudes Reading, click on the link below: