Thursday, August 22, 2013

For the Needlewoman: An Image of Jane

One of the more enjoyable aspects (or the most vexed, depending upon circumstances) of publishing a novel is the serendipitous nature of cover art.  Authors are rarely consulted about the images that grace their books; nor, quite often, does the Editorial side of a publishing house have a great deal of input.  Cover art is produced by the Art department, and in the heady days of publishing, when houses were flush with funds (the 1990s), images were often commissioned from artists.

Now they seem to be mostly produced by computers, and instead of images, often feature merely words.

My favorite cover in the Jane Austen Mystery Series is, hands-down, Jane and the Prisoner of Wool House.  It depicts a windswept Austen standing upon the quay at Southampton with some Royal Navy ships in the background, beneath a stormy sky. Fabulous.

The scene was painted by Kinuko Craft (, and the cover produced from her art.

Others appear to like this image of Jane just as much.  I learned today that it's even available in a cross stitch pattern.

So for the masterful needlewomen among you--a challenging winter project!  The chart may be found at:



Tuesday, August 20, 2013


I am so happy in my friends, as to count several Janeites among them; and it was one of these who  charitably conveyed me to an advance screening of the film Austenland last evening.  We were conscious of appearing well, of being surrounded by a numerous acquaintance, and of living in every expectation of present enjoyment, and future satisfaction; so much so, that the term guilty pleasure only thrice passed our lips.

Seriously.  We had a great time. 

Yes, the movie has received only 3 out of 10 tomatoes on Rotten Tomatoes; it has been girlishly and gigglingly reviewed on NPR, panned outright by the New York Times--but if you've ever signed up enthusiastically for a Jane Austen Society Annual General Meeting, specifically for the hat-trimming, dance-training, or dressmaking breakout sessions; or if you're one of the founding members of the official Colin Firth online fanclub, Austenland is not a bad way to pass a couple of hours.

Make no mistake:  This is not a Heritage Adapation of one of the Divine Jane's Sacred Works.  We all have our favorites among those perennial staples of BBC funding, and Austenland will never be in the running for the most passionate arguments true Janeites know: Henry Tilney or John Knightley?  Frederick Wentworth or Fitzwilliam Darcy?  Colin Firth, or any other actor who attempts to fill

What Austenland does explore is the unfortunate gap between fantasy and reality, between the desire to enter the pages of Pride and Prejudice, and the actual tedium of finding oneself eternally in a role that has no foundation in emotion or personal history.  It follows a young woman, Jane Hayes (the ingenuous and charming Carrie Russell) as she spends her life savings to return to Regency England on a great estate tricked out with period actors, intentionally conspiring to provide a romantic episode for her life.  Yes, there are slapstick moments--several of her colleagues deliberately lampoon the conventions of Regency dramas--and some of the humor is broad.  Austenland is a spoof on terminal fandom, and some of us may have suffered the malady enough to find it amusing or painful. But at base, the film offers a glimpse of a woman discovering that fakes--even beautifully clothed in an idyllic landscape--are no substitute for the real thing.  And that is a journey most of us will recognize.

As an author myself, I abhor spoilers.  Without disclosing the ending, therefore, I will say only that I found it a clever inversion of both the film's concept, and the expectation of most Janeites.  Guilty pleasure?  Why not.  It won't kill you.  It might even make you laugh.  Go see Austenland.


Monday, July 1, 2013

Mimi: The Blankie Chronicles

When my second son, Stephen, was born he inherited a blanket that his brother Sam had never cottoned to.  It was a gorgeous thing my mother had bestowed upon my first-born, from Saks Fifth Avenue's special layette line, all white flannel and satin appliques.  There was a bunch of multicolored balloons and the word BABY, as I recall, in flamboyant letters, larger than life.  Stephen loved this bit of luxury and his nanny, Tami Auer, made certain that every time he left the house, Mimi was snuggled in his arms.  She understood the value of attachment.  When Stephen was old enough to talk he told us the blankie's name was Mimi.  At four he was kicked out of the first of a few preschools for visiting Mimi in the cloakroom without asking permission.  At five, in pre-kindergarten, an arch Early Childhood aide beamed at Steve and said, "You have a blankie!  Does it have a name?"
     "Mimi," Stephen said.
     "And is Mimi a boy, or a girl?"
     Stephen looked from the aide to the blankie and back again.
     "Do you see a penis?" he asked.

Mimi has rarely been far from Stephen's life, or more importantly, his nose, in the years since.  Mimi has traveled to Europe on several occasions.  She has survived a medical evacuation from Geneva Glen Camp and twelve-hour days of fencing.  She has gone into surgery for Stephen's broken nose and has recently graduated from 8th grade.  We fully expect Mimi, or what remains of her, to matriculate at a future college and eventually to walk down the aisle in Stephen's wedding coat pocket.  She has grown old and threadbare in his keeping.  She is as loyal as his dog, but much easier to pack and infinitely easier to wash.  And she never fails to reassure.  When we hit a rough patch of turbulence en route to Columbus, Ohio, for Fencing Nationals a few days ago, Steve turned to me in the airplane darkness and said, sotto voce, "I think I'll get Mimi out now."

So it was with considerable sadness this afternoon that I interrupted a call from my husband to take a frantic cellphone beep from my fifteen year-old son.
     "What is it, Steve?"
     "Mom!  Did you move Mimi?"
     It seems that the hotel housekeepers in downtown Columbus had mistaken a tattered friend for a piece of trash.  Mimi had disappeared while we were at the Convention Center watching a teammate medal in Division III Men's Saber.  Not with a bang, I texted my husband, but a whimper.  Mimi ought to have gone down on the Titanic.  Not a trash chute.

I misjudged the power of a kid's love, of course.
Steve bolted from our hotel room while I was still putting away my cell phone and tracked down the Hilton housekeepers who'd so kindly folded our towels and arranged our sheets this morning.  He rescued Mimi from the Trash Bag of Death, and she will live, presumably, until she disintegrates.  Mark and I often laugh about Steve's attachment to his blankie--but it occurred to me today that Mimi is equally fortunate.  She's got a guy with a sword at her back.  We should all be so lucky.