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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Susan Fales-Hill: From Sitcom Writer to Jane Austen Inspired Author

Susan Fales-Hill: From Sitcom Writer to Jane Austen Inspired Author
(When watching the interview below on the Today Show, little did I expect that Susan Fales-Hill would agree to visit with us here at Darcyholic Diversions.  I hope you enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.  She will be giving away SIX hard back copies of Imperfect Bliss.  Your comment is your entry, but be sure to include a contact email.  Extra entries as usual. Winners will be announced after December 15th.)

With a couple of notable exceptions, my love affair with “Pride and Prejudice” is the longest of my fifty years on this planet.   It began when I was sixteen, and already an avid fan of Nineteenth Century French and English novels (my heroine at the time was Queen Victoria, a symptom of my personality disorder, ADR -Acute Delusions of Royalty.)   Though I favored the florid language of Dickens and Balzac,  Austen’s spare, epigrammatic prose proved a revelation.   Her wry humor drew me in, as did her sharp yet humane satires of the sillier Bennett sisters, of the snobbish Miss Bingley and the pedantic Mr. Collins.   And then, of course, there was Elizabeth, the warm, strong, intelligent, intellectually accomplished and elegant woman I aspired to become.  My Penguin paperback edition quickly became a constant literary companion, read and re-read whenever the opportunity arose.  One summer weekend in college, I read it aloud to my best friend as we sat by the shores of a lake (such a pastime seems unimaginable in today’s frantically wired world, but I highly recommend it over “texting,” or even “sexting.”)
            In my untried youth, I appreciated the book’s literary merits without quite grasping its warnings about the pitfalls marriage.  People think of “Pride and Prejudice” as a romantic tale, and certainly Darcy and Elizabeth’s union is one of the most moving in all of Western literature.   In Darcy, Austen has created the ultimate female fantasy: a dark, brooding, sensuous man who is also emotionally, morally and financially reliable, Heathcliff without the temper and with a better retirement plan.   If one examines the book closely, however, it presents the reader with only three “marriages of true minds” that of Darcy and Elizabeth, that of Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle, and that of Bingley and Jane.  Every other union is one of unequals, Mr. and Mrs. Bennett, Charlotte Lucas and Mr. Collins, or based on financial expediency and impure motives (Lydia and Wickham.)    The triumph of Darcy and Elizabeth’s romance, in which the former overcomes the class prejudice of his day to marry a woman of lesser social rank, represented a subservice happy ending Austen failed to experience in her own life.   As a young girl, she fell in love with a member of the landed gentry only to have her amour ripped away by his family and forced to wed a woman of “equal standing.”
It was only as I matured, and experienced marriage myself that the book’s darker shadings became apparent.  In my dating years, Darcy and Elizabeth’s romance served as my template of the perfect “happily ever after.”   Given that I spent my twenties and early thirties living in Los Angeles and writing for sitcoms (“A Different World,” “Suddenly Susan” etc..)  this was a less than achievable ideal.   Elegant Darcys do not abound in the entertainment industry so I was condemned to many a Saturday night snuggling up to Darcy on the page.   A good friend and colleague suggested at one point that I would save myself a good deal of time and heartache by inviting any potential suitor to my home before a date and asking him to watch my favorite film adaptation of the book, the 1938 version starring Lawrence Olivier and the luminous Greer Garson.   If the young man in question made it through the full two hours, my friend’s theory went, we might have a prayer of finding common ground.   I never did attempt this method of triage because I knew the assorted directors, actors, executives, rappers and ball players who found their way to my door would probably not make it past the “Assembly Ball” scene. ( All’s well that ends well, the man I married undertook to read not only “Pride and Prejudice” but also, “Madame Bovary,” another favorite.)
            Still the book remained an obsession.  At one point, I developed an idea for a television “dramedy” based on a contemporary version of the Bennett family.   Like many an idea pitched in Hollywood, it landed in the “round file.”   Then, a good decade later, after I’d finished my first novel, “One Flight Up,” the tale of a multicultural group of women bound by friendship, an alma mater and adultery, my agent and editor suggested I return to the notion of updating “Pride and Prejudice.”  The advent of reality T.V., with its parade of women vying, twenty-five to a hot tub, for the attentions of an unremarkable yet buff and toothsome young man (“The Bachelor,” any given season) seemed to provide the perfect fodder for Austenesque satire and social commentary.  The marriage market skewered by Ms. Austen has found its latest incarnation in the worlds of the “Real Housewives,” and “The Bachelor” and “Bachelorette” franchises.   And are not the Kelly sisters, the twin “Tampa socialites” at the center of the Petraeus scandal modern day replicas of Kitty and Lydia, running to consort with the local regiment?
            And so “Imperfect Bliss,” the story of a family with four eligible daughters one of whom is selected to be the star of a reality show I titled “The Virgin” (and lest my reader recoil in horror, one of the networks developed but then chose not to proceed with a reality show with that very title…) was conceived.  I won’t give too much away, but the book has its Elizabeth (the Bliss of the title, a divorcee pursuing her PHD in history and studying the 18th Century Chevalier de Saint Georges, aka “The Black Mozart”) and its Darcy (you’ll have to read it to guess which man that is.)  Like the masterpiece to which it pays homage, it is, at bottom, the story of a woman and a man finding lasting passionate love by learning to “read” others with open hearts and understanding, as opposed to judgment.   The original title of “Pride and Prejudice” was “First Impressions,” and in that theme lies the key to the eternal appeal of Austen’s work.   Is not the quest to see and be seen, to love and be loved, truly, madly, deeply the essence of the human journey?   Here’s to reading Austen for another two hundred years.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Elizabeth Darcy and Black Friday Sales: Barbara Tiller Cole

Elizabeth Darcy and Black Friday Sales
By Barbara Tiller Cole
(I am sharing what I hope is a fun series of interviews between Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy and myself last holiday season. They were posted at various sites during a blog tour I did.  Some of you may have seen one or two of them, or perhaps more.  But I will be re-posting them all here, starting today, in honor of the Special Holiday Cover re-release of Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy.)

Friday began the shopping rush for the upcoming Holiday Season.  While I am not a huge fan of Day after Thanksgiving sales (now called Black Friday since 2005), I know many of my friends anticipate them all year long. While contemplating that I was quite shocked and extremely excited when Elizabeth Darcy, from my story Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy, stopped by to talk with me.  I will not question how she managed to transport herself to my humble abode (after all I wrote a story about ghostly visitations), but she did want to speak to me about this particular Holiday custom.  I recorded our conversation and will transcribe it for your entertainment.

EDarcy:  Miss Cole, or should I say Lady Cole? 

BTCole:  Ms. Cole, but I would be happy if you would wish to call me Barbara, Mrs. Darcy.

EDarcy:  I would be honored, Barbara.  Please call me, Elizabeth.

BTCole:  Thank you, Elizabeth. I understand you have some questions to ask me about the twenty-first century Holiday custom of Black Friday?

EDarcy:  I do.  First of all, I cannot understand all the signs I see about Black Friday?  Is a plague coming?  Has someone very important in your world died?  Are you all to be in mourning and wear black clothes on Friday?  I just cannot determine the meaning. Most peculiar of all is something will be sold on that day? Is it some type of armband or mourning jewelry?

BTCole:  No, Elizabeth.  Black Friday refers to the custom of deeply discounting merchandise for sale on the day after Thanksgiving.  It is called ‘Black’ because most stores open in the middle of the night for these sales to begin, while it is still black outside. For many businesses it is from this point on that they are making profit during the year, or being ‘in the black’. ‘In the black’ means they are on the profit side of the profit and loss statement for their business.

EDarcy:  Thank you, Barbara.  I have heard of this holiday called Thanksgiving, but do not know much about it.  Can you tell me more?

BTCole:  In the United Stated, the Thanksgiving holiday originated in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1621 as a celebration of a successful harvest after arriving in the colonies.

EDarcy:  Fitzwilliam and I have studied some of the history of the formation of the colonies and their uprising against the British.  So this is not an event to celebrate freedom from their native homeland?

BTCole:  No, it is not.  And even if you understand the history, over the years, it has just become a time when family and friends get together for a good meal and talk about their gratitude for the year. 

EDarcy:  The history of the event was about a successful harvest you said?  It sounds similar to our harvest celebration.  I assume you clear the tables after dinner and dance a jig, or a similar dance?

BTCole:  I am sure there are some families that might dance after the meal, but my family mostly relaxes on the couch and either takes a nap or watches football games.

EDarcy:  Football games?

BTCole:  Believe me, you are much better off not knowing about them. Many a modern woman becomes a football widow during the Bowl game season.

EDarcy:  Bowl Games?  I am quite a proficient at lawn bowling!  Fitzwilliam and I love to play with our children.

BTCole:  No, Elizabeth.  It is not like lawn bowling. I am not sure I can explain it appropriately.  It is nothing like games in the Regency period.  Believe me, you are much better off not knowing about it.  Let us just leave it that the men folk go off and watch these sporting events—perhaps not unlike they disappeared into the billiard room or the smoking room after dinner in your time.

EDarcy:  My dear Darcy taught me how to play billiards.  He particularly enjoys getting behind me and helping me handle the long pole to manipulate the balls into a pocket.  So this football is like that? 

BTCole:  Oh dear!  I am not explaining this well.  Perhaps I can show you a game on TV.

EDarcy:  What is a TV?

BTCole:  This is also a bit difficult to explain.  I will call it an electronic box that shows sports, and plays and news.  It is almost as good as being in attendance.  Instead of going to the opera or the theatre, you can watch the events on this device.

EDarcy:  It sounds quite fascinating.  Perhaps I will have an opportunity to watch one of these electronic boxes while I am here in your century.  I still find I need to understand more about the purpose of Black Friday.  It is about buying things?

BTCole:  It is about purchasing deeply discounted merchandise for sale on that one day.

EDarcy:  I am trying to understand this.  Would it be similar to my going to the modiste shop the day after Thanksgiving and receiving a discount on the things I ordered?

BTCole:  That is probably the closest to what transpires in our century, but few people purchase their clothes made to order in this century.  We go to stores and purchase them ready-made.  They come in a wide variety of sizes. 

EDarcy: You mean all the classes shop in these stores? Are there not shops that specialize in catering to the upper classes?

BTCole:  There are special designer shops, that is true, but even in those stores they have sales.  Most people purchase items off the rack.

EDarcy:  Off the rack, you say.  I think that Fitzwilliam likes my rack. (she giggled)

BTCole:  Mrs. Darcy!  I am happy to see a bit of your impertience showing through. I am sure Mr. Darcy appreciates all of you, but this kind of rack is actually a long stand that holds the items, and those that are shopping can look through the items as they hang.  It works in a similar way to the rod in your wardrobe closet.  At least I am assuming I am correct in that conclusion.

EDarcy:  I certainly have rods in my closet. But there are none in my good friend Mrs. Collins’ closet.   Mr. Collins insisted in putting shelves in the closets as Lady Catherine declared it the most efficient use of the space.  And as we all know, she is never wrong. (she laughed)

BTCole:  (laughing) How are you and your ‘aunt’ getting along these days?

EDarcy:  I am quite happy to report that with the intervention of Fitzwilliam’s ghosts, she is quickly becoming a very dear friend.  It may sound impossible, but I am very happy to report that it is indeed true.  Thank you, dear author, for suggesting that as a possibility in your story.  Perhaps I can tell you more about it and you will write about it in the future!

BTCole:  I would be happy to learn more about how the ghosts intervened into Lady Catherine’s life.  I could write about that for next holiday season.  Would you like to accompany me to the Black Friday sales this coming Friday, Elizabeth?

EDarcy:  While I cannot promise I will be allowed to return, I would love the opportunity to do so!  I hope to see you soon!

BTCole:  Thanks again Elizabeth, for coming and visiting with me today.

I will be giving away 2 softcover copies, and 2 eBook copies of Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy to be chose from comments from this series of interviews.  Those who comment on each will be given additional entries for each comment as well as being members of this site, my author's blog, Tweeting this post, or sharing it on facebook, etc.  For THIS comment tell me about what YOU did on Black Friday!

 Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy Blurb:

A Jane Austen/Charles Dickens crossover story, Fitzwilliam Ebenezer Darcy takes the best of both classics and spins them into a delightful Holiday yarn! F.E. Darcy has fallen into pitiful self-loathing and sorrowful angst-ridden despair; all of this due to his belief that he has lost forever the chance to marry the only woman he has ever loved—Elizabeth Bennet. Seeing her son in such a state, the Ghost of Anne Darcy reaches out to him; informing him that three ghosts would visit him and give him hope. Will these Spirits provide him with the courage to try again to win the esteem of his one true soul mate?  Barbara Tiller Cole, an Atlanta native and the writer of the popular book White Lies and Other Half Truths, presents this family friendly classic—a delightful combination of the best of her two favorite authors, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. Barbara credits her parents with fostering a love for both of these authors. Each Christmas, Barbara’s father would sit and read Dicken’s classic A Christmas Carol to the family. Her mother consistently challenged her to improve her mind by extensive reading, Jane Austen style. This book is dedicated to the memory of Cliff and Jeanne and the season they loved the best.

Diana John Oaks: A Rookie Author, But a Seasoned Darcyholic!

A Rookie Author, But a Seasoned Darcyholic!
Meet Diana John Oaks
(For those of you who have had me in your prayers, I am feeling some better,  I particularly appreciate Diane understanding how late I am in getting this post up.  Thank you all. Barbara )
I’d like to thank Barbara, for the opportunity to introduce myself.  As a true rookie among a distinguished group of seasoned JAFF authors, I feel honored to be invited to share this space with people I truly admire. 
One day, shortly after my oldest son started college, I noticed that my usually reserved son seemed different somehow.  I asked him how his day had gone, and with a big smile on his face, he bounced on the balls of his feet as he said, “My people!  I’ve found my people!”
His people, as it turned out, spoke a language that he found utterly fascinating, who would sit around and discuss a topic he fell in love with from the moment he discovered it.  His people are economists. 
I didn’t fully understand the significance of his discovery, of finding “his people”, until I found my own.  Janeites are “my people” and around them, I feel like I’m home, in company with my literary “relations.”  Janeites speak my language, they share my mental DNA.  My side of the family, by the way, is the Darcy / Bennet branch of the Janeite family tree.  The Dashwoods, Elliots, Bertrams and such are kinfolk, but more like cousins in my allegiance.
Sadly, my journey to the discovery of my literary home was set back by, of all persons, a librarian.  I was just ten, a precocious reader, consuming, and loving books that were well beyond my age bracket.  My mother predicted that I would probably love the book Pride and Prejudice.  On the next library day at school, after failing to find it in the card catalog, I went to the librarian at her desk and asked her where I could find a copy.  She laughed at me, and said that I was far too young to read that book. I should, she said, wait until I was at least twenty to attempt it.  I remember that, because at the age of ten, twenty is literally a lifetime away.
I was in fifth grade, and I considered librarians, along with teachers and parents, infallible.  I filed the title away under the category of “too hard to read” until it faded from my consciousness and was lost in the sea of “classics” that I didn’t get around to.  It would be decades before the title circled back around to me.
Like many others, I was caught in the net of Darcy fascination by the 1995 A&E production of Pride and Prejudice.  Unfortunately, I missed it in 1995 when the rest of the world fell for Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy.   It was not until 2004, when my niece loaned me her DVD set that I was caught in the spell.  After watching the DVDs obsessively for a couple of weeks, I went to the bookstore and bought myself the most beautiful hardcover edition of Pride and Prejudice I could get my hands on, and proceeded to read it through twice in two days.  I was enthralled.  It had taken more than three decades from that day in the elementary school library for me to discover Pride and Prejudice. The rest of Jane Austen’s work followed, but during this personal discovery phase, I was in a bubble - I had no idea that there were whole organizations celebrating her; I just knew that she inspired me, and ignited my desire to write.  When I found Jane, I joyfully returned to my long-neglected love affair with the pen.  An Austen-inspired romance novel emerged—a novel that has since been through several edits, but still sits on my hard drive, unpublished. 
In October 2010, the downturn in the economy hit me personally.  My hours at work were cut from full-time, to ten hours a week.  I found myself with a lot of time to spend, but no money. Chasing down and clipping coupons was my most despised and short-lived hobby from that period.
In December of that year, I contracted the flu.  What is better than a Pride and Prejudice marathon when you’re lying feverishly on the couch, right?  So there I am, listlessly watching Darcy and Elizabeth in the parsonage at Hunsford, when a question occurred to me.  I don’t recall the question, but I sat up and searched for an answer on my laptop.  One promising entry in the search results linked to a website called FanFiction.net.  I found, not an answer to my question, but a well-written story that featured my favorite characters from Pride and Prejudice.  Since I had lost 75% of my income, the price was right for my non-existent budget—free.  During the course of my illness, I read six novel-length Pride and Prejudice stories on that website.  I noticed as I read that there were typically a handful of reviews for each chapter.  It seemed to me at the time that I had inadvertently discovered an obscure little corner of the internet where I could return to the habit of writing again while I had the time to do it.  With some luck, I would pick up a few readers for the added bonus of having feedback on what I was writing.
This was the genesis of One Thread Pulled, and I found more of “my people” every day as I composed and shared the story.  I confess that I was having too much fun with it to take it very seriously for the first few chapters, but the readership swelled quickly, and I realized that not only did they care about what I was writing, I did too.
I began to pour my heart into the story, adding elements from my own life experience into the plot.  This personal aspect of One Thread Pulled definitely sets a different tone than what Austen herself wrote. An experience I had with a dear friend, whose inexplicable behavior ultimately led to the heartbreaking diagnosis of mental illness, worked its way into the plot.  The tragic and violent death of a man I knew, a victim of his own dark, secret life, was also incorporated into the plot. The momentary lapse of self-control of an otherwise decent person I know, family secrets and raging hormones were all threads from my own history that added to the texture of the story.  Some have called these particular things contrived and overly dramatic, but I know they are plausible, because they spring from deeply personal, true events in my rather unextraordinary life. I don’t ask anyone to actually suspend disbelief, I just hope they’ll stay open to the possibilities.  I do believe that these sorts of things are true to the spirit of Jane Austen’s work.  She gave us hypochondriacs, narcissists, control freaks, lechers and scoundrels.  Her work introduces depressed persons, anxious persons, perfectionists and recluses in addition to her deliciously flawed heroes and heroines.  I love that about Austen.
I had not intended to publish One Thread Pulled when I started writing it, but was ultimately persuaded to do it by my readers.  I had fairly low expectations for sales beyond the readers who had expressed a desire to obtain a copy.  I was completely unprepared for the amazing response the book has had so far from the Darcyholics of the world. 
The pressure is now on for me to complete the sequel, Constant as the Sun, which sees Elizabeth and Darcy through a London season as an engaged couple. I am targeting completion for 2013. 
I am offering one autographed copy of One Thread Pulled, mailed anywhere in the world.  Leave a comment below to be entered in the giveaway.
Diana Oaks
(Diana sent me some pictures from her cruise, and I took advantage of having them to use them for this post.  Love the final one with her Darcy.)

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Visit with Amy Patterson of Jane Austen Books

 Welcome Amy Patterson of Jane Austen Books to Darcyholic Diversions
I’d like to start by saying how grateful I am for Barbara’s invitation to Darcyholic Diversions. I am glad to be a part of anything that celebrates the world’s greatest literary hero. In fact, I can’t remember a time in my life when Mr Darcy wasn’t a part of it. Truth is, I was about three years old when my mother first read Pride and Prejudice to me and my older sister. Every now and then she’d stop for the big words, or for our big bedtime yawns, but we were captivated. It was only the first in the series of classics she read us – I also remember Huckleberry Finn and Swiss Family Robinson – but Pride and Prejudice was the one we would ask for again and again.

My mother was also a young woman when she first read the book, albeit as an “Abridged Classic,” and aged eleven instead of three. She read the whole thing, put it down in anger – “How could she marry that horrible man?!” – then read it again from start to finish. The second reading showed her that she, like Elizabeth, had misunderstood Darcy’s character. One of Austen’s tricks is luring us into a false confidence in her narration, putting us at the mercy of the same prejudices as her characters. For the first-time reader, it’s easy to assume Darcy’s Netherfield barbs about reading are a jab at Elizabeth, instead of a subtle poke at Miss Bingley’s lack of enthusiasm for literature.

Naturally, most of this was lost on me as a small child. I loved the illustrations in the book, the inset title on the front cover. I remember falling asleep to the steady rhythm of Austen’s balanced prose, with her characters - as Hugh Thomson’s black and white drawings - dancing through my head.

Of course, nothing is more advantageous to a young woman than a healthy literary fantasy world. Our home was host to several, but the world created by Austen's writings was the one that brought the three of us - my mother, sister, and I - closest together. We shared a secret language that no one, not even our dad, could really figure out. From a young age, I knew I was a "Marianne," I knew the vagaries of English entailment laws, and most importantly, I knew the measure of a good man was how well he stood up to his personal and familial demons to fight for the woman he truly loved.

The three of us wore out our VHS copy of the 1980 BBC Pride and Prejudice years before Colin Firth splashed his way across our TV. Every few months we’d stay up all night munching on cheese and crackers - giggling, heckling, and cheering our way through all four and a half hours of Fay Weldon’s delightful dialogue.

But our private little Austenian triumvirate wasn’t destined to last. My mother spent a few years picking up some college courses here & there, after work and on the weekends. She discovered one day, quite by accident, that her English professor had helped found a Cleveland branch of the Jane Austen Society of North America. (JASNA ONC) Suddenly Jane was no longer our family friend, she was a quietly growing worldwide phenomenon whose wave we’d just managed to ride a bit earlier than some. She was also finally an object of serious critical study, which delighted my mother, who had sat through college English courses wondering when they’d bring up Austen, and being disappointed almost every time.

Through the 1990’s our local JASNA region cultivated our love for Austen with lectures, dances, tours, and wonderful publications. My mother’s shelves filled up with books by authors like Maggie Lane, Brian Southam, David Selwyn, and Juliet McMaster. I dressed up as Jane Austen in 6th grade (although nobody but my teacher knew who she was), and I proposed extra-credit presentations on Pride and Prejudice to give to my high school English class. At the time I didn’t realize just how big a role Jane Austen played in my life, even when I ran off for a few years to study Engineering and ended up with a husband instead.

So, with all of this love for Jane Austen, it was rather fitting that one day I’d end up making my living selling her books and writing about her, even if it took several years and several coincidences to bring it about. And in the end, it was another accidental conversation, like the one with my mother’s English professor, that brought me to my current profession. My mother called to place an order with Jane Austen Books - probably for some more critical studies - and heard the devastating news that the owner no longer felt she could run the store! And worse - she couldn’t find anyone who would buy it and keep it running as Jane Austen Books - any offers she had received were from people planning to fold her collection into their own.

I don’t really know what possessed us to offer a friendly buyout of the store, other than a charming lack of knowledge of what our work as bookstore owners would entail. But we learned quickly, and we love what we do. My mother’s small collection of Austen’s works, critical studies, and other odd, imported, or just plain fun Austen-related books has now been dwarfed by the collection of 10,000 or so more in her basement, but each one is special to us.

My sister and I especially have been steeped in Austenania almost our entire lives, and Jane Austen Books is just a continuation of our lifelong Austen obsession. It’s also a chance for us to meet wonderful people - authors, scholars, fans, and everyday readers - who we might not otherwise know. Our children have an international fan club of people who receive our catalogs, or who have seen them dancing in costume at an AGM. We have been very lucky that a series of happy coincidences allowed us to step into a world of which most casual fans aren’t aware.

For the little girl who wanted nothing better than to hear Elizabeth put Lady Catherine in her place, and whose first real “idol” was on a printed page instead of a TV screen, my profession couldn’t fit much better than it does right now.

Check out Jane Austen Books to learn more about Amy and books available from her.