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It’s always a pleasure to have Victoria Kincaid as a guest on my blog, but today I’m even more excited because we’re celebrating the release of President Darcy! I had a wonderful time editing this novel, and it’s become my favorite of hers (and I’ve loved them all!). This time I had a chance to pick her brain about the process of writing the book, her first modern Pride and Prejudice variation. Please give Victoria a warm welcome!

Until now, you’ve written only Regency-era P&P variations. What made you decide to write a modern P&P variation?

This idea has been knocking around in my head for years, but it finally came of age. I was able to envision all the major characters and figure out how the plot points fit together. At that point I couldn’t not write it. I was chomping at the bit to start writing.

Given the current political climate, did you find that a challenge in putting Mr. Darcy in the White House? What would you say to readers who might be a little nervous about putting Darcy in such an environment?

First of all, politics is not at all the focus of this story. It’s a love story about a man who happens to be president. In general, the presidency is more of an obstacle than anything.

I had the idea long before the 2016 election turned so contentious, but Darcy evolved—in some ways—into an antidote for the current political situation.  President Darcy may be proud and difficult (just like his literary predecessor), but the presidential version is very honest and empathetic and concerned about people. His character embodies a lot of qualities people would like to see in a president.

What is your favorite scene or moment in the book? What did you have the most fun writing?

It’s hard to say much without giving too many spoilers. But I had a great deal of fun with the scene after the “proposal” scene—where Darcy’s friends/staff are giving him a hard time at how romantically inept he is. I could imagine the Regency-era Bingley and Colonel Fitzwilliam saying similar things to Mr. Darcy after Hunsford: “You told her she was inferior and it was a degradation to love her? What’s wrong with you?” I also love the scene outside Pemberley when they meet up again because the way they encounter each other is so unexpected.

I’m curious: Where did you get the inspiration for the Bennet family business, On-a-Stick, Inc.?

I wanted the Bennets to have money from doing something that Darcy would consider gauche but not prurient (so owning a strip club wouldn’t work). I thought about processed food and corn dogs (which my son loves). There’s something so American about the idea that the most convenient way to eat a hot dog is off a stick. You can’t imagine an old-money scion like George Bush eating something so processed and messy. I also had a good time thinking up improbable foods to put on a stick. I mean, would anyone want zucchini on a stick? Or could you imagine trying to put lasagna on a stick?

I laughed out loud so many times while editing this book. Seriously, gut-busting laughs. I realized that this feel-good laughter was mainly centered on Bill Collins. Did you laugh as much writing him? Could you describe your Mr. Collins to my readers?

I’m so glad you found him entertaining! At first I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to make his character function in a modern context. Having him as a clergyman and potential suitor would have been hard to work out. So I focused on the idea of his slavish devotion to Mrs. de Bourgh and his sense of self-importance. I decided that she owned an office supply company because it’s a boring industry that Collins could delude himself into thinking was really interesting. Everything else sprang from that.

He started thinking of himself as the “crown prince of staplers.” One of the fun things about writing Collins (in Regency or modern day) is that it’s almost impossible to go too far over the top with him. He can talk about how he always wanted to market number two pencils or how cutthroat the office supplies industry is—and it works for his character.

How easy or difficult did you find transforming Regency Mr. Darcy to modern-day President Darcy? What about translating Elizabeth to modern times?

It was harder in general to translate P&P into modern times than I expected. When I write a Regency era adaptation, one of the challenges is to stay true to Austen’s characters and world while writing something new. The modern setting gave me more freedom, but that also meant there were more choices to make.

For example, we see class quite differently in 21st century U.S.A. While Regency-era Darcy had to be more polite and circumspect in his speech generally, he could be more open about the socioeconomic differences between him and Elizabeth. Class divisions were accepted and seen as natural. We’re more egalitarian today, so noticing and discussing the differences between old money and new money makes Darcy even more of snob.

With Elizabeth and the other female characters, the biggest challenge is the degree of freedom women enjoy today. Although Regency-era Elizabeth turns down two eligible men, she doesn’t have a lot of other options other than matrimony. All the women are openly husband-hunting even if they’re genteel about it. But today such behavior is in bad taste, so Mrs. Bennet—and her talk of how her daughters’ eggs are aging—is the one who’s desperate for rich husbands for her daughters. In fact, my Bingley gets upset when he thinks Jane wants him for his money. In the Regency era that was just an accepted part of the marriage bargain.

What did you find to be the most difficult part of modernizing P&P?

For one thing, it required a whole different kind of research! Instead of looking up Regency carriages and Christmas customs, I was googling the layout of the White House or pictures of Air Force One and the presidential limo. I know a lot more about the presidential lifestyle now.

Another challenge was remaining true to Austen’s characters and world while also finding modern day equivalents to Regency customs and institutions. For example, today we’d go home or to the hospital if we got sick at someone else’s house. But Jane needed a reason to stay overnight in the White House—and to require Elizabeth’s company. The Gardiners and Elizabeth aren’t going to get a tour of Pemberley, so how does she meet up with Darcy again?

The limitations on the president’s life were another added dimension. He can’t run into Elizabeth at the coffee shop or drop by her apartment. But these are fun problems to have. Usually when I solve them I find that the solution enriches the story and takes it in a new and better direction.

Did you find it harder or easier to write Will and Elizabeth’s relationship without the strict rules of Regency courtship and propriety?

I’m going to cheat and say both. 😊 In general it’s easier to write Regency romance because the social expectations set up a lot of inherent obstacles between the romantic protagonists. And, without obstacles, you could have a boring story. Boy meets girl. Boy marries girl. The end.

It can be hard to write contemporary romances because there are just fewer things that believably stand in the way. That’s why so many contemporary romances rely on misunderstandings as a plot device. Fortunately the presidency itself created a lot of obstacles. Because the president is always in the public eye, there are a lot of things he can’t do or say—or he needs to keep hidden (like his potential girlfriend’s embarrassing family).

Do you think you’ll write another modern (or even just non-Regency) P&P? Or a variation of a different Austen novel?

I have another idea for a modern P&P variation which I hope to write eventually. I haven’t been able to come up with good ideas for other non-P&P Austen variations, although I’ve considered doing a mashup of P&P and Persuasion or Sense and Sensibility.

Could you tell us a little bit about your next project?

I’m now writing a Regency-era Christmas novella about Elizabeth and Darcy which I hope to have out by Christmas.

Thanks, Victoria! I really hope the readers love this one as much as I did. Congrats on the new release!

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About President Darcy

A contemporary adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

President William Darcy has it all: wealth, intelligence, and the most powerful job in the country. Despite what his friends say, he is not lonely in the White House. He’s not. And he has vowed not to date while he’s in office. Nor is he interested in Elizabeth Bennet. She might be pretty and funny and smart, but her family is nouveau riche and unbearable. Unfortunately, he encounters her everywhere in Washington, D.C.—making her harder and harder to ignore. Why can’t he get her out of his mind?

Elizabeth Bennet enjoys her job with the Red Cross and loves her family, despite their tendency to embarrass her. At a White House state dinner, they cause her to make an unfavorable impression on the president, who labels her unattractive and uninteresting. Those words are immediately broadcast on Twitter, so the whole world now knows the president insulted her. Elizabeth just wants to avoid the man—who, let’s admit it, is proud and difficult. For some reason he acts all friendly when they keep running into each other, but she knows he’s judging her.

Eventually, circumstances force Darcy and Elizabeth to confront their true feelings for each other, with explosive results. But even if they can find common ground, Mr. Darcy is still the president—with limited privacy and unlimited responsibilities—and his enemies won’t hesitate to use his feelings for Elizabeth against him.

Can President Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet find their way to happily ever after?

Check out President Darcy on Goodreads | Amazon

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Giveaway

Victoria is generously offering a copy of President Darcy to one lucky reader. They will have their choice of an ebook or paperback. This giveaway is open internationally and will close on Sunday, October 29, 2017. To enter, please leave a comment with your email address. The winner will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

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I would like to welcome Joy King (J. Dawn King/Christie Capps) to Diary of an Eccentric to celebrate the release of her newest novel, Friends and Enemies. This is her first visit to my blog, and I’m delighted to have her as my guest today. Welcome, Joy!

Thank you very much.

Your latest Jane Austen Fan Fiction (JAFF) released yesterday. Can you tell us how this one differs from your others?

Friends and Enemies is the first full-length novel I’ve written from one point-of-view. It is very Darcy-centric. Readers will travel with him as he metamorphosizes from the arrogant gentleman in Hertfordshire to the man worthy of Elizabeth Bennet’s love. The journey, for him, is painful and angst-filled. Boy, oh boy did I love this man. I think he’s my favorite Darcy so far.

What did you like most about this Mr. Darcy?

I loved his sheer determination. Each time a personal flaw was revealed, he meditated on the impact to his future and the future of others as he considered what he needed to do to adjust. Then, despite anguish and difficulty, he pressed on with his purpose. His honor and innate qualities as a true gentleman drove him. Underneath, he is a man worthy of the deepest love and devotion.

What did you not like about Mr. Darcy?

I think it’s a man thing – the need to be in control and take charge. And, his assumption that he was automatically deserving of respect. Bah!

Which character surprised you most in your story?

Lydia Bennet. She is not often in the book; however, there are short moments of brilliance where I think she has completely redeemed herself. Nevertheless, they were quickly followed by her acting as the youngest Bennet who makes us roll our eyes and snort.

Would you give us an example?

In this excerpt, Lydia has just acted with unbelievable wisdom and decorum. Here’s the events immediately following. Mr. Darcy is speaking:

He wiped his eyes. “Miss Lydia, after Elizabeth and I have been married for a while, it would be our pleasure to invite you for a visit to our home. You have proven yourself to be a true friend and despite my initial impressions, I believe with a little amount of instruction, you would outshine the silly ladies of the ton in no time at all.” 

“What a joke!” She jumped up and ran from the room. At the door, she stopped. “You just wait until I tell Kitty.” Whooping and hollering like a field hand calling cows, she left Darcy and her sister behind, quite alone and stunned by her wild behaviour after the compliment.

And, what about the Elizabeth Bennet in your story. What did you love most about her?

This Elizabeth is wise and less impulsive. We understand what motivates her caution with Mr. Darcy. Even though we want her to love him as soon as he loves her, he truly doesn’t deserve her devotion until she can trust him. Her kindness in this tale is exemplary.

What did you not like about Elizabeth?

The same thing as above. It drove me nuts. I kept thinking, “just get over it and tell him you love him!” However, as a studier of character, she had witnessed and lived with a relationship she abhorred. It was a tricky thing to be a woman during Regency times. We are reading these stories with 21st century sensibilities. We wear our independence and completely comprehend Elizabeth’s need to go her own way. However, she was an anomaly at the time. Jane Austen definitely wrote her as period correct.

What is in store for J. Dawn King?

I keep saying this and have for the past three years, but I’m working on my Bingley/Jane sequel to A Father’s Sins. My daughter, Jennifer, keeps telling me to give it up and move on. I’d love to. Yet, this Bingley barges into my psyche and nags me fairly frequently. He reminds me I have a lovely finished cover and a strong beginning. He silently demands his own happily-ever-after. The brat!

Thank you very much for stopping by. Here is the blurb for Friends and Enemies which is available at Amazon.

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, the hero of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, has his world turned upside down when his character, of which he is particularly proud, is called into question by those whom he trusts.

Will he learn from his mistakes or remain his own worst enemy?

When he discovers a secret which could destroy not only the reputation of his beloved sister but threatens her very life, he can no longer hide behind his mask of social indifference. Dismaying circumstances will test the strength of his personal beliefs and convictions as well as his devotion to family and friends as a rival from his past determines to ruin him and take everything Darcy holds dear. Out of the flames of adversity, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, once scorned, becomes a beacon of hope.

Can love grow from adversity? Is happiness possible?

In this full-length novel set in Regency, England, true friendships are made, enemies are revealed, and happily-ever-after is on the horizon. Or is it…

I understand you come bearing gifts.

I do, Anna. I have six eBooks of anything I’ve written as J. Dawn King or Christie Capps and a lovely $50 Amazon gift card to giveaway. Do you think any of your readers might be interested?

I do. Thank you for your generosity. All of Joy’s giveaways are open internationally. To enter, please comment below with the answer to the question: Which quality attracts you to a man? (Some suggestions: honorable, sexy, kind, loves puppies and babies, learned, capable…) Please include your email address so I can contact you if you win. This giveaway will close on Sunday, June 11, 2017. The winners will be chosen randomly and announced in the comments section of this post (and I will email you as well). If you are selected for a prize and we do not hear from you by June 16, 2017, we will have to select someone else as a winner. Good luck!

And thank you, Joy, for stopping by today. I can’t wait to read your books; I’ve purchased a few on my Kindle and am anxious to start them. Please come back again any time!

Connect with Joy on Facebook: Joy King and J Dawn King | Twitter | Website

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Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems, shortlisted for the 2011 Indie Lit Awards, is an emotional collection of poems.  The triptych, like the title suggests, focuses on three women:  Annette, a psychiatrist; Julia, her daughter; and Milena, one of her patients.  Emma Eden Ramos is a writer of both poetry and prose, and this shows in her narrative style.

With Three Women, I felt like I was reading a novel in verse.  Ramos tells a story about grief and family heritage, anger and suicide, and immigrant issues.  I like that Ramos doesn’t use flowery or abstract language and just tells the story.

We spoke our usual mother-daughter dialect
she cursed wildly
I eyed her with disgust
this rabid creature with my DNA
held hostage my distress
and we argued
she raged
it was about five minutes before she left me
in peace (page 7)

M: Hey, I say what I think. I don’t tip-toe like Americans.

J: What does that even mean? You don’t sound foreign.

M: Well I am, I’m Croatian. I actually wasn’t born here.

J: You sound American to me.

M: Well I came here when I was one.

J: So you were raised here, which, I think, makes you one of us. (page 25)

Following the triptych are three separate poems, my favorite of which was “Letter to Suicide (an old friend)”

We met first then
and
Later when Maribeth decided to go the Woolf way
(giant pebbles and all).
She had, after all, graduated with an English degree. (page 30)

Three Women is the kind of poetry book to read when you want a break from prose but don’t want to have to think too hard to decipher imagery and symbolism and just want to enjoy an interesting story.  I don’t think the “Selected Poems” were necessary to include, but they don’t detract from the triptych, which is the main focus.  And just because Ramos’ work is very accessible doesn’t mean it doesn’t pack a punch.

What I enjoyed most about Three Women was the raw emotion displayed by the women.  I really felt their anger and their sadness.  I felt like I really got to know the characters, much more than I expected given the short length of the triptych.  If Ramos can pack that much emotion and that much characterization into a poem spanning about 30 pages, I wonder what she could do with a novel?

Please give a warm welcome to Emma Eden Ramos, who was kind enough to answer some questions about her writing, Three Women in particular, and her favorite poetry collections.

Could you tell my readers a little about yourself (your interests, writing, etc.)?

I am a twenty-four-year-old writer from New York City. I am also currently a student at Brooklyn College.

I’ve been writing since I was fifteen but only began seriously working on my craft in 2009. At that time I was majoring in Psychology, which has greatly influenced my writing.

Describe your poetry in 5 words or less.

Prose-like, semi-autobiographical, moody, character-based.

The poems in Three Women are very narrative, which I enjoyed. Do you prefer writing poetry or prose?

Poets and fiction writers tend to be very different creatures, especially when it comes to time and space. Many poets have the ability to obliterate the concept of time as linear movement (although there are fiction writers–Virginia Woolf for instance–who manipulate the bounds of temporal space). Poetry can exist in a space of its own. It does not have to be cohesive or even logical.

For me, however, working with a narrative structure that fits into a specific space and time is essential. So yes, when it comes to writing, prose is my preferred medium.

Why were the final three poems chosen to follow the triptych? I thought the triptych stood well on its own.

Originally I conceived the triptych to stand on its own, and it is still the main focus of the collection. The chapbook, however, needed to be a specific length, so I chose the final three poems because they expanded on some of the themes that were forefront in the triptych.

What are some of your favorite poetry collections?

I have many favorite poetry collections. To name a few: A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far by Adrienne Rich, Magnetic North by Linda Gregerson, Longing Distance by Sarah Hannah, Odes to Opposites by Pablo Neruda, and there are many others. One of my favorite novels is Vladimir Nabokov’s Pale Fire, which consists of a poem of 999 lines written by the main character and a commentary on that poem by his eccentric neighbor. It’s a work of genius.

Any hints as to what you’re working on now?

I have a middle grade novella coming out from MuseItUp Publishing in September, and I am beginning to pick up bits and pieces of what will hopefully be a full-length novel. Fingers and all other flexible appendages are crossed. That may account for the difficulty I’m having typing.

Thanks, Emma! Congratulations on being shortlisted for the Indie Lit Awards. I wish you much success!

Short List - 2011 Indie Lit Awards in Poetry

Hosted by Savvy Verse & Wit

Book 5 for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge

Disclosure: I received a copy of Three Women: A Poetic Triptych and Selected Poems from the poet as part of the voting process for the Indie Lit Awards.

© 2012 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Stephanie Dray is the author of two novels (with the last in the trilogy yet to come) about Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s daughter, Selene, who was dragged through Rome in chains with her brothers after their parents’ suicide and eventually became the Queen of Mauretania.  Stay tuned for my upcoming reviews of Lily of the Nile (Amazon/IndieBound), published earlier this year, and her most recent book, Song of the Nile (Amazon/IndieBound).  Please give a warm welcome to Stephanie Dray, whom I’d like to thank for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my questions.

What inspired you to devote so much time to researching and writing about Cleopatra and Mark Antony’s daughter, Selene?

I was really inspired by the story of a little girl who was orphaned and taken away from the only home she’d ever known, marched through the streets as a captive prisoner, and raised by the very people who killed her family.  That she was able to carve a future for herself out of that horrific past, by endearing herself to her parents’ enemies and keeping quiet about her true feelings, is a testament to her strength. However, it also meant that she was deprived of a true voice most of her life, and I wanted to give a voice back to her.

What is one thing most people don’t know or get wrong about Cleopatra and/or Selene?

Cleopatra VII is known as the last of the Ptolemaic queens. She wasn’t; her daughter Selene was. Also, Cleopatra VII was known as the last Queen of Egypt. That honor probably goes to Queen Zenobia, who may have been a descendant of Selene’s.

Why do you think Selene is so popular in literature at the moment?  What do you think makes your books stand out from the rest?

I’m not sure why everyone seems to have discovered Selene around the same time — it might have something to do with Margaret George, whose marvelous book seemed to work through the collective consciousness of the culture. We all want to think that Cleopatra’s legacy wasn’t lost. That’s where Cleopatra Selene comes in. My novels stand out because they’re soaked in magical realism. For the ancients, magic was real, so when Isis speaks to Cleopatra Selene through bloody hieroglyphics that carve themselves into her hands, I think there’s a certain authentic mysticism that brings to my novels.

What do you think about the comparisons between your books and Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter?

I’m honored by any such comparisons. Michelle Moran is a fantastic author and a classy woman!

Are you working on another novel?  Any hints as to what it’s about?

Currently, I’m working on the third and final installment of the trilogy about Cleopatra Selene’s life. It will follow her life as a more mature and powerful queen and explore her unique viewpoint of the imperial family during some of its most tumultuous days.

What are the best books you’ve read recently?

I’ve been on a Ken Follett kick lately — so Pillars of the Earth, World Without End and Fall of Giants have consumed me.  For (slightly) lighter historical fare, however, I’ve also recently enjoyed Kate Quinn’s Daughters of Rome and Jeannie Lin’s historical romance, The Dragon and the Pearl.

Thanks, Stephanie!  I can’t wait to read the last book about Cleopatra Selene!

About Stephanie Dray

Stephanie graduated with a degree in Government from Smith, a small women’s college in Massachusetts where–to the consternation of her devoted professors–she was unable to master Latin. However, her focus on Middle Eastern Studies gave her a deeper understanding of the consequences of Egypt’s ancient clash with Rome, both in terms of the still-extant tensions between East and West as well as the worldwide decline of female-oriented religion.

Before she wrote novels, Stephanie was a lawyer, a game designer, and a teacher. Now she uses the transformative power of magic realism to illuminate the stories of women in history and inspire the young women of today. She remains fascinated by all things Roman or Egyptian and has–to the consternation of her devoted husband–collected a house full of cats and ancient artifacts.

About Song of the Nile

Sorceress. Seductress. Schemer. Cleopatra’s daughter has become the emperor’s most unlikely apprentice and the one woman who can destroy his empire…

Having survived her perilous childhood as a royal captive of Rome, Selene pledged her loyalty to Augustus and swore she would become his very own Cleopatra. Now the young queen faces an uncertain destiny in a foreign land.

Forced to marry a man of the emperor’s choosing, Selene will not allow her new husband to rule in her name. She quickly establishes herself as a capable leader in her own right and as a religious icon. Beginning the hard work of building a new nation, she wins the love of her new subjects and makes herself vital to Rome by bringing forth bountiful harvests.

But it’s the magic of Isis flowing through her veins that makes her indispensable to the emperor. Against a backdrop of imperial politics and religious persecution, Cleopatra’s daughter beguiles her way to the very precipice of power. She has never forgotten her birthright, but will the price of her mother’s throne be more than she’s willing to pay?

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I’m thrilled to welcome Mary Lydon Simonsen back to Diary of an Eccentric today.  Mary is one of my favorite authors of Jane Austen-inspired novels, and her latest release, A Wife for Mr. Darcy (read my review), didn’t disappoint.  In A Wife for Mr. Darcy, a variation of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Darcy and Elizabeth are attracted to one another right away, but Darcy’s courtship of Sir John Montford’s daughter jeopardize their happiness.  It’s a unique take on Pride and Prejudice, and a book I found difficult to put down.  I’d like to thank Mary for taking time out of her busy schedule to answer my many questions about all-things-Austen.

With so many variations of Austen’s novels available today, why should readers choose yours?

Why should readers choose A Wife for Mr. Darcy? I’ll give you an analogy. It is like someone who is trying to decide what to have for lunch. Sometimes a nice salad will do, but other times, you want the whole enchilada, with rice and beans and sour cream and guacamole, a big, heavy, mother of a meal. My Pride and Prejudice re-imaginings are on the light side. I try to tell a story using a lot of humor. After reading A Wife for Mr. Darcy, I hope you will have a smile on your face. You will not be reaching for the Kleenex box.

You’ve written P&P variations set during WWI and WWII. Do you plan to take Elizabeth and Darcy elsewhere outside Regency England?

Yes. In a book I will be self-publishing in August, Darcy on the Hudson, I have Darcy, Georgiana, and Charles Bingley traveling to Tarrytown, north of New York City, where Darcy meets American, Elizabeth Bennet. Although Americans and the English have a lot in common, there are enough differences to add some spice to the stew, and America and England are about to go to war again.

P&P seems to be a reader favorite, but for those of us who enjoy all of Austen’s novels, what do you think readers can do to convince publishers to release more retellings of Austen’s other novels?

To start with, Jane Austen fans could buy my book, Anne Elliot, A New Beginning, a parody of Persuasion that you were good enough to review. I also have a short story, Elinor and Edward’s Plans for Lucy Steele, a parody of Sense and Sensibility, on Kindle and Nook. Seriously, with publishers, the numbers do the talking. Although my editor liked Anne Elliot, she told me she couldn’t sell it. However, there is hope. Because it is so easy to self-publish on Kindle and Nook, I think you will see more books inspired by novels other than P&P coming out. For instance, I will have a novella out this fall, Captain Wentworth, A Random Harvest (working title and another Persuasion re-imagining). Did I mention, I’m looking for reviewers?

Here’s a debate I continually have with myself: Captain Wentworth or Mr. Darcy? What side do you take?

I love Mr. Darcy. He’s got it all, but the thing I like most about him is that throughout the story he is evolving. I like a man capable of change. Having said that, I have to go with Frederick Wentworth. I admire the fact that he is a self-made man and that he has a job, which is important to me. Also, he loved Anne Elliot for eight years! That’s a lot to ask of any lover. Finally, his love makes Anne beautiful because she is glowing on the inside. Sigh!

Do you plan to write more outside the Austen genre?

I would love to write a mystery. I started one: a pre-World War II espionage thriller, but it was so much harder than I thought. For example, I would actually have to write an outline. But you’ll be one of the first to know if I ever complete the manuscript.

You’ve been a guest on Diary of an Eccentric a few times now. Can you tell me and my readers something unique about yourself that we haven’t read anywhere else?

I took an algebra class when I was fifty years old. I have been math phobic my whole life, and I decided to see if I could do it. I got an A in the class, but I have to tell you, by the time I finished that class, my brain hurt!

If you had just a few minutes to speak to Jane Austen in person, what would you say to her?

How did you do it? You wrote with ink and a quill pen! How did you not go crazy squeezing your corrections in—writing in the margins and between the lines? You really have to admire Jane Austen’s work ethic because the very process was so difficult, and, yet, she did it brilliantly! My hat’s off to Miss Austen and all those other quill pen wielders.

Thank you for having me. It is always a pleasure visiting with you.

Thanks, Mary!  I am very, very excited about your upcoming Captain Wentworth novella.  And P&P in New York?  I can’t wait!

Sourcebooks is offering a copy of A Wife for Mr. Darcy to one lucky reader!  To enter, please leave a comment with your e-mail address and tell me what you would say to Jane Austen if you had a chance to meet her.  Because the publisher is shipping the book, this giveaway is open to readers with addresses in the U.S. and Canada, and it will end at 11:59 pm EST on Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011.

**Please note that this giveaway is now closed**

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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Jim Hooper in Yemen two years ago

Today, I am thrilled to welcome Jim Hooper to Diary of an Eccentric.  Jim is the author of A Hundred Feet Over Hell, which made my “Best of 2010” list.  A Hundred Feet Over Hell is about the Catkillers who flew over the Demilitarized Zone during the Vietnam War.  Jim’s brother, Bill, was a Catkiller, and Jim enabled him and his friends to describe their missions and experiences in their own words.  Here’s an excerpt from my review:

Going back and forth between the pilots and some of the soldiers on the ground, several particularly intense scenes involve a handful of troops hunkered down, unable to move, and under intense fire from the Viet Cong.  Various circumstances — being shot at, the weather, the time of day — made the Catkillers’ job difficult, but despite the pressure and with the help of the men in their backseats, they saved many lives.  Hooper puts you right in the plane, and my heart pounding, I rushed through the pages to see how the missions turned out.  I don’t know how these young men — many barely out of high school — could deal with such pressure day in and day out, but they did their jobs well and with heart.

Please give a warm welcome to Jim Hooper.

What prompted you to write about the Catkillers?

My kid brother’s return from Vietnam had been etched permanently into my mind long before I thought of the book. I was a few months out of the army, having served in Germany, when we received a letter from his commanding officer, expressing regret for Bill’s wound and praising him to the sky. What? Because Bill had ticked the ‘NO’ box after the question “Do you want your family notified if you are wounded?” there had been no official telegram from the Department of the Army. As you can imagine, my mother almost collapsed, then got on the phone to our congressman, who quickly discovered Bill had just arrived at the hospital at Ft Gordon, GA. Three weeks later, he was given a few days’ leave. He and I sat at the kitchen table until dawn, sipping injudiciously from a bottle of JD Black, Bill talking almost non-stop as I listened open-mouthed. The stories he told me that night and over the next days never left me.

Years later, as a freelance war correspondent and photo-journalist, I had seen combat, learned the meaning of fear under fire, and, though both were designer wounds compared with what my brother had suffered, had received my own red badges of courage. And I’d written my first book about it all. With a few hundred flying hours as a private pilot, I decided I was finally qualified to apply all that to recording what Bill had lived through, as a tribute to my best and most trusted friend. Little did I imagine it would turn into a 16-year project.

How did you get in touch with them?  Were they interested in talking about their experiences, or did you encounter some resistance?  My experience with Vietnam veterans has been that they don’t like to open up about their time in combat.

Tracking down those Bill had flown with was a story in itself, especially since I live in England. He had long since lost touch with them, but the names remained fresh. The internet was very new, and I started with the White Pages. The first name I tried was Charles Finch, and dozens of bemused Charles Finches picked up their telephones to listen to my reason for calling; none was the man I was searching for. By good fortune, one of Catkillers had been given the unusual name “Sargent” at birth. There couldn’t be too many Sargent Means, I reasoned, and sure enough, I found myself talking with one of the men I’d heard so much about. Still in the army, he was very wary about a cold-caller claiming to be the brother (and a journalist to boot!) of a Vietnam comrade. I gave him Bill’s number in Florida, and as soon as my bona fides were established the Catkiller network opened. Even then, getting their recollections was a struggle. Fortunately, Doc Clement, one of those straight-out-of-central-casting characters, was incredibly enthusiastic about the project. He led the charge, pestering the Catkillers unmercifully with prods and prompts to send me material. It still took years to gather enough stories, edit and work them into chronological order, before I had a viable manuscript. The next struggle was finding a publisher, which was accomplished when I eventually went to agent Bill Corsa of Specialty Book Marketing.

Are you still in touch with the Catkillers? Have you received comments from those who read the book?

Fifteen years of emailing back and forth with the Catkillers saw some become close friends; as a result, we regularly bring each other up to date by email or Skype. The praise from all those who feature in A Hundred Feet Over Hell – as well as many who served before and after the period covered in the book – has been overwhelming and not a little humbling. I was honoured last year by being invited as guest speaker at their reunion, where I had the opportunity to meet most of them face-to-face for the first time. It was a deeply satisfying experience. One of the unintended consequences of the book has been over a dozen reconnections amongst Catkillers who had completely lost touch with their wartime comrades, as well as US Army and Marine Corps observers who rode in their back seats.

What do you want readers — especially those like me, without a background in military terminology, etc. — to take from the book?

For too long the Vietnam War was a highly contentious period of American history. Many of those sent to fight were branded as war criminals on their return. My brother, still recovering from a serious wound, was called a “hired killer” and spat on soon after going back to college. It was not an all-volunteer army as we have today; the vast majority were drafted and sent to Southeast Asia: the alternative was jail or fleeing to Canada. Lumping them into the same category as Lt William Calley, responsible for the infamous My Lai Massacre, was not just desperately unfair but morally wrong. So I guess the message for those with no military background is that the Catkillers were bright, funny and honorable men – boy-next-door types – who risked their lives to support other young Americans, who, like themselves, served there by government fiat. To a lesser extent, I wanted to explain the job the Catkillers were given. This was more difficult, particularly in the use of terminology. I suspected the largest percentage of readers would come to the book because of their own military experiences; thus I was loathe to translate everything in ‘civilianese,’ something that annoys veterans considerably. In the end, I leaned more toward the jargon, but tried to explain in subsequent paragraphs what it all meant without insulting either side’s intelligence. (One of the biggest mistakes authors make is underestimating their audience.) Getting the right balance was difficult, and perhaps I wasn’t as successful as I might have been. Another goal was to avoid the angst so often used to stitch together war memoirs. It’s an approach that panders to those who believe war is an atavistic and dehumanizing phenomenon; and it plays well to certain publishers. Unfortunately, war is part of man’s – as opposed to woman’s – DNA, and no part of that particular genetic sequence will ever be bred out of us. To those who don’t believe it, have a look at DVD covers. The huge percentage that show men (and occasionally women) brandishing guns tells you that if there was no market for war/police drama the big film studios wouldn’t invest millions in producing such films. Is war frightening? Immensely. Can it be life altering? Unquestionably. Dehumanizing? The fact that the Catkillers placed themselves in mortal danger on almost a daily basis to save lives suggests quite the opposite. And contrary to popular myth, they all came home and established successful careers; not a sociopath among them.

[Jim, you did an excellent job making the book understandable and accessible to the average reader without making it too simplistic.]

Jim Hooper in Africa 20 years ago

What has been the biggest adventure of your writing career?

Tough question. First, writing is an adventure all by itself. As I’m sure you know, it can be alternately intimidating and exhilarating. As far as physical adventure, it’s a toss up between the eight wars in African I covered and the war in Bosnia. In Africa, the distances – whether in the back of captured Soviet trucks or on foot through jungle and forest – were daunting and physically demanding. I also had to accept that a serious injury could very well have terminal consequences before the various rebel armies I accompanied could get me to modern medical care. By good fortune, the two times I was wounded was while embedded with South African forces in Namibia; in both instances I was on a helicopter in less than an hour and heading for a military hospital. Bosnia was a different situation entirely. I spent almost six months on my own, driving between the various front lines, being shot at by all three sides on occasion. The most terrifying experience was being captured by Arab Islamists near the central Bosnian town of Travnik; I was extremely lucky to survive. It was certainly the most dangerous place I’ve ever been. To put it in perspective, during the Vietnam War, sixty-three journalists were killed over twenty-two years; in the first three years of the Bosnian war, over seventy died.

[You certainly have had your share of adventures, and it sounds like you have many experiences about which to write.]

What projects are you working on now?

A novel nearing completion has been interrupted by three publishers wanting rights to my first book, which has been out of print since 1992. This has seen me dive into revising the original manuscript. Alongside that, I’ve pulled a couple of thousand slides and black and white negatives from files I haven’t looked at in almost two decades, the best of which may end up in a companion volume or two to complement the revised edition. And then there’s the relaxing and enjoyable time addressing your questions. Nice break, so thank you.

[Congratulations!  I wish you much success!]

What books (fiction and non-fiction) about the Vietnam War do you consider to be must-reads?

I must confess the only novel based on the Vietnam War I’ve read is The 13th Valley. I remember it as well-written but dark and angst-riven. Top of the non-fiction list has to be Dispatches by Michael Herr, who spent a year covering the conflict for Esquire magazine. As background to understanding what occurred prior to President Kennedy sending the first US troops to the country, Bernard Fall’s Street Without Joy is superb. Though poorly adapted to the big screen, We Were Soldiers Once…and Young ranks high as an account of what America’s young draftees lived through. Written by General Hal Moore, who as a lieutenant colonel was US commander at the Ia Drang battle, and correspondent Joe Galloway, who was also there, it is a singularly gripping memoir.

Thanks, Jim, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions. I look forward to reading more of your work in the future.

Disclosure: I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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I am very excited to welcome Nicole Barker, author of Dancing With Ana, to Diary of an Eccentric today.  I reviewed Dancing With Ana — a book about a teenager struggling with anorexia after her father leaves the family — back in October of 2009, and Nicole and I discussed an interview at that time.  However, real life has a way of interfering, and the interview was delayed.  But in this case, it was the good type of interference because Nicole had a baby!  Once life returned to a more normal pace, Nicole was kind enough to contact me again.  It meant a lot to me that she’d saved my questions and still wanted to answer them!  So please give a warm welcome to Nicole Barker.

What inspired you to write Dancing With Ana?

Women.  Young women.  Girls.  Young girls.  They were all my inspiration for Dancing With Ana.  Women are simply amazing creatures.  We are so strong and our endurance is  sustaining.  Our love for our family and friends is given on the highest selfless level.  We shine with an excitement and energy that is sure to touch every corner of the world, or every corner of our world at least.  Yet, we can lose our step so easily when abandoned, betrayed or hurt by someone we love.  We absorb insecurity into ourselves until it eats us alive.  We freefall and grasp at anything that will keep us from drowning into the depths of nothingness.  It happens every day, everywhere.  I wanted to write about a regular girl struggling to come to grips with a life changing event, the abandonment of her father.

How do you explain your portrayal of Beth going from a healthy weight to rib-showing thin in just a couple of weeks? Did you speed things up for the sake of the narrative, or is this a normal occurrence?

At the start of the book, Beth doesn’t have any extra weight to lose.  She is a runner who is fairly fit.  It is definitely possible to lose the weight she did in a time frame of a couple weeks.  Her ribs, which would have been slightly visible anyway because she was small to begin with, would have become more prominent, especially to the touch.  She succumbs to the flirtation with Ana more and more as each day passes.

Do you feel that anorexia isn’t getting enough press? When I was younger, I remember all the TV movies and afterschool specials. I don’t see too much about it in the news these days, but it certainly hasn’t gone away.

You are right, anorexia is not called out anymore.  I recently overheard a ten year old girl refer to a fit and healthy teenager she saw on tv as “fat”.  It was disturbing.  Girls in the second grade are on “diets”.  I think there are more young women out there that try Ana as a coping mechanism than we are aware of, mainly because it’s easy to hide and offers such a strong sense of control.

What are some resources you’d recommend for young girls struggling with weight issues or parents, friends, and teachers of these girls?

There are a lot of books on the topic as well as websites.  Google, of course, is a great source of information.  The best resource for parents is to talk with other parents.  You learn so much about what is going on with your child by comparing notes.  A book like Dancing With Ana is one small example of a resource that can be used simply to get conversation started, which is usually the most challenging aspect of communicating with a tween or teen.

What do you want readers to take from the book?

Maybe a feeling of, “I’m not alone” or “I’m not the only one going through something like this”.  People have told me that it’s been a great way to talk with their daughters about the subject matter, which brings me such joy.  If Dancing With Ana touches just one person in a positive way, I’m satisfied.

Are you working on another book? Any hints?

Yes!  I’m working on a sequel to Dancing With Ana!  Two years ago, I took a break from writing when I became pregnant with my third child.  It feels amazing not only to be writing again, but to be back in the world of Beth, Jenny, Rachel and Melanie.  Oh, and Jeremy, of course!

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not writing?

Raising my three kids, which pretty much takes up the rest of my life!  I also enjoy running, going to the beach and going to see live music.

What are five books you find yourself recommending over and over and why?

The Bell Jar, because it’s the book that made me want to write.

The Outsiders, because its theme is timeless and so incredibly touching.  I kind of feel this way about all S.E. Hinton books.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, because I have had moments in my life that almost mirror the entire book.

I’m in love with Hamlet and could easily read it every year for the rest of my life.

Okay, my guilty pleasure.  I love the Twilight series.  I find it an easy escape and very entertaining.  Sometimes, after a long day of captaining my household,  there is nothing better than falling into the world of vampires, wolves and an awkward teenage girl.

Thanks, Nicole, for taking time out of your busy schedule to answer my questions!  I’m looking forward to the sequel.

To learn more about Dancing With Ana, visit Nicole’s website.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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