200th Anniversary of Pride and Prejudice

My favorite book is 200 years old today! A book that has been called the most influential novel ever. I think that makes it time for a literary celebration.

 

Now, how to celebrate?

The BBC is recreating the Netherfield Ball. But sadly, Mr. Bingley never sent me an invitation.

Author Wendy Soltis has challenged herself to re-type Pride and Prejudice in it’s entirety. But I’m not quite that ambitious myself, although I have in the past retyped entire books when the hard copy I had was in danger of falling apart (back in the dark ages before I bought just about everything for my e-reader).

If I didn’t have work, I might attend the twelve hour live reading of Pride and Prejudice in Chicago. And there are all kinds of events all over the world.

Aside from celebrations, the anniversary has sparked a slew of people to examine what it is that makes Pride and Prejudice so special even 200 years later. From articles about Elizabeth Bennet, to a visit to Bath to learn to become a modern day Darcy. Or how a 228 year-old man can still enrapture so many women. You can find tips on how to be a Pride and Prejudice tourist. Learn about objects that tell us about Jane Austen. Or read more about common misconceptions of themes in Jane Austen’s works. Want to know more about the cult of Janites?

There are discussions of which actor made the best Mr. Darcy. **cough cough Colin Firth cough** But clearly not everybody agrees on this.

How about some trivia with 12 facts you may or may not already know. Or do you know what P.D. James considers two plot problems in the original that she tried to resolve in her own novel?

There are ebook giveaways, and trivia contests abounding. And I’ve only scratched the surface of all the fun.

For now, I’ll leave you with some typically witty and insightful quotes by Jane Austen.

Obsessed with Books

It’s probably one of the first signs of aging these days: looking at a social media website and saying “I don’t get it.” But I’ll admit it anyway. Most of the time I don’t get tumblr. That didn’t stop me the other day when I saw a picture on Facebook attributed to a tumblr blog. (I had to ask somebody what to call the posts originating from a single user. That’s how little I get tumblr. Anyway….)

The post was this image.

And that’s something I totally do (although not every time). Often, when I re-read books, I only re-read bits of them. My favorite bits, of course.

From there, I had to look up bookfessions on tumblr, and I started scrolling through the images.

Some were things I do. Like this one.

And this one:

Others were mildly horrifying:

I never write in books in any permanent way! If there is something I absolutely must write in a book, I do it in pencil, lightly, so I can erase it in the future if I decide to. Highlighters, to me, are things for making your notes in class a bit easier to study, not for use in books, even textbooks. But that’s me.

Some of them were just impressive, like the 13 year-old that had more books than any other member of their family. Or the high school sophomore who has already read everything in the school library. Then there was the person who was more upset about forgetting their book than they were about forgetting their lunch. While I sympathize, I get monstrously cranky without food, so I’d still have been more upset without lunch.

The one that really caught my attention, though, was this one:

No, I haven’t tripped recently while walking and reading at the same time. I liked it because it reminded me of something. On the first day of the new semester, I woke up early and was driving to work feeling blah (I’m very much not a morning person). A few blocks from my house I spotted somebody walking along the street with their nose in a book.

It definitely caught my attention, and then a moment later, I felt a bit sad that a sight like that was so unusual as to have done so. If it had been somebody texting while walking, I likely wouldn’t have thought twice about it. People pay more attention to their electronic interactions at times than they do to people in the same room with them. Seeing somebody texting while walking is commonplace and only worthy of notice when something unusual happens.

But that guy reminded me that there are other people out there even more obsessed with reading than I am. And bookfessions has highlighted over a thousand of my fellows. If you’ve got some time to waste, I highly recommend skimming through some of the posts there. Maybe, if tumblr ever sucks me in, I might even submit one or two of my own.

Resolutions and Endeavours

Last night (or more accurately, very, very early this morning) after we’d all stopped singing Auld Lang Syne, one of the hosts asked if anybody had a New Year’s Resolution to share. She mentioned hers, and a few people chimed in, but nothing big came of it.

I personally haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution in quite some time. There are a few reasons for this. One is that, if you don’t see your resolution through, it makes your reflections on December 31st that much less satisfactory. Oh, I had these grand goals and then forgot about them a month later (or two or three months, or however long you manage to last). The more important reason is that, while New Year’s Day is a lovely and symbolic fresh start, I feel like any resolution really worth making deserves to be made immediately, not locked away to only come out at the start of the calendar year. Resolutions don’t really care what the date is.

I mentioned this bit of philosophy to my mother when I was visiting for Christmas, and her response was to pick a word and make that your word for the year. Not understanding her completely, I picked a random multi-syllable word (defenestration) and suggested it. She dismissed my word. (I don’t blame her. I don’t think I’d want to make my entire year about throwing things out of windows. It could get expensive.) Her word for the year is Thankfulness. Every day she wants to take some time to find at least one thing that occurred that day for which she is thankful.

I like this concept a bit more than that of resolutions. But after some thought, I decided to pick a phrase instead of a single word. And, being me, I picked a phrase from one of Jane Austen’s novels. I have been thinking on and off about this particular line for a bit more than a year now, because if I ever get another tattoo, it will be of this quote.

I’m sure many of you recognize it. It’s a line from Emma. After she claims credit for setting up Miss Taylor with Mr. Weston, Mr. Knightly gently chides her. How can you have succeeded in doing something, he reasons, when you didn’t actually do anything other than imagine the outcome would be pleasant. So taken in context, it is a remonstrance. You cannot claim success for what is simply luck or good fortune. Be humble, you haven’t earned all the good things that have happened to you, some of them came about because of the work of others. Instead of claiming credit, be grateful for your good fortune. That is enough.

But that’s not all, at least not to me. I just read the quote in context, but what about if you take it out of context? Taken on it’s own, it can become an inspirational reminder. Is there a goal you want to achieve? Well if you expect to succeed, you must continue to work toward it. Positive thinking can do a lot, but it cannot be the end of it. In order to succeed, you must put forth an effort.

For all those little resolutions that I will make throughout the year, the ones I refuse to wait for a specific calendar date to enact, I will strive to keep this phrase in mind. If I expect to succeed, I must also expect to work.

Finally, I leave you with this Niel Gaiman quote as my wish for your new year.

Joy

I have a confession to make. This is my cat. That’s right, for the first time in my life, I became one of those pet owners that subjects their furry family member to the embarrassment of  a costume. Okay, okay, some of the costumes I’ve seen pictures of are cute, and some of the animals don’t seem to mind them much, but I’m still mildly ashamed of having done this to my cat. It took several treats and plenty of petting to get myself out of the dog house.

You know, I can still hear my bird snickering. To make her sacrifice worthwhile, I think this might have to be my Christmas card next year.

Actually, I think this is a much more accurate assessment of her feelings at that moment.

I hope you have a very Merry Christmas filled with plenty of

joy!

My Christmas Tree: Part 2

As promised, I’ve got a few more ornaments and memories to share this week.

And I even have a theme. Snow!

A Lace Snowflake A Lace Snowflake

This homemade crocheted snowflake was mailed to me five years ago. I was living in Asia at the time, in a location where 50 degrees Fahrenheit was cold. There were a few Christmas decorations, but it wasn’t as common or pervasive a holiday there.

An aunt–one of those aunts that is not a blood relative but a close family friend–sent this in a Christmas card so that I could have a white Christmas.

A Friend I've Never Met

A Friend I’ve Never Met

If you haven’t delved into the online world of Jane Austen fans, and lovers of Jane Austen what-if tales, you’re missing out. Since I discovered that I am not alone in my obsession, I have made a number of good friends in the various communities.

This snowflake also came in the mail, when I participated in a holiday card exchange two years ago. I got cards from all over the world (all of which I still have). I had them hanging up when some friends came to dinner. One photo card included images of Colin Firth, Matthew MacFadyen, and Richard Armitage. “What friend of yours has three such good looking sons?” one friend asked, staring at the card. After I stopped laughing hysterically, I explained.

I don’t have the space to hang up all the old cards in addition to all the new ones, so this snowflake stands in for them on my tree.

The Best Snowglobe Ever! The Best Snow Globe Ever!

This one I bought for myself. I have to say, it was one of the best investments I’ve ever made in terms of Christmas decorations. When I saw it in the store I burst out laughing so hard that I attracted attention from one of the sales people and had to explain myself. (The poor man must have thought I was mad.)

Can you spot why?

Snowglobe 2

How about now?

SnomThe globe, filed with styrofoam snow, and painted with a snowman, is also painted repeatedly with the word “snom!” Not once, anywhere on the ornament does the word “snow” appear.

It was on clearance for about $2, and there was no way I was leaving without it. I had already gotten my money’s worth by showing it to the cashiers and looking at their stunned faces as they tried to figure out why I would buy a defective ornament. Since then I have been paid back a dozen times over in showing it to people who fail to notice why it’s funny (it’s amazing how the brain automatically fixes things without you realizing), and smiling every time I look at it. It reminds me, in the midst of all the bustle, to take some time to smile and laugh.

As the holidays draw closer, I hope you find some time away from the running around to enjoy the fun of the season.

My Christmas Tree: Part 1

One of the best parts of the holiday season for me is decorating the tree. In my house, many important, or just memorable, moments are commemorated decorations. On the family tree at my parents’ house are baby’s first christmas decorations for my brother and myself, a few decorations we made as children, a hand-painted globe from my college, and any number of decorations bought at favorite vacation spots. (There is something inherently amusing about a christmas tree ball covered in coral and tropical fish.)

A lot of the really meaningful decorations from my childhood stayed at my parents’ house, but there are plenty of memories to be hung on my tree as well.

The Obligatory Monkey http://i1056.photobucket.com/albums/t364/CRafeC/ObligatoryMonkey.jpg

I worked with monkeys for nearly a decade. As a result, I got many many monkey themed gifts. This particular one is from my grandmother, which makes it that much more special. (She takes great pleasure in picking out things that she thinks I’ll find cute.) This reminds me of both family and work, and years spent in other countries away from my family. I am grateful for the support my family gave me during my schooling.

Sports Team Love

Sports Team Love

This one was gift from mom. My grandfather indoctrinated me to being a Yankee fan at a young age. I would sit on his lap and together we would watch the Yankees losing (it was the 80s, and they were not doing well) while he told me that they were the best team ever. Later, my mom even taught her birds to cheer for the Yankees. (They will chant “Let’s go, Yankees!” and then make a clapping noise or bang their beaks on something to make the noise).

I’ll never be a stats-quoting fanatic, but I do enjoy watching the games, especially with family.

Frosty the S'More-Man

Frosty the S’More-man

Another gift from Mom, this one with a specific story behind it. Shortly after graduating from college, I was set to move to Costa Rica for a year. Mom and I went to Philadelphia so I could get a passport and some supplies for my travels. In the evening we decided to stop for a snack and wandered into a Cosi. Neither of us had ever been to one before, and we were delighted to find s’mores on the menu. We had an inordinate amount of fun toasting marshmallows over the sterno they brought to the table. When she found this ornament a little over a year later, she bought two, one for me and one for herself. Since then, Frosty the S’More-man has been on my tree every year.

More ornaments next week! May you be reminded of many pleasant memories this holiday season, whatever holiday you celebrate.

Thanksgiving

If you spend enough time on Facebook, you’ve probably seen people this month participating in the 30 Days of Thanks. Every day in Novemeber, participants post something they’re thankful for. It’s a lovely idea, although I freely admit some of the statuses have made me laugh and roll my eyes. I saw one post where a woman stated she was thankful for hair and that she did not have to worry about male pattern baldness. (Admit it, you find that particular bit of thanksgiving a bit funny too, don’t you?)
Thanksgiving
I did not participate in the 30 Days of Thanks, and I won’t bore you with a list of 30 things. But I do want to take today to mention four things I am thankful for (hardly a comprehensive list). I hope everybody has a few moments in the insanity of cooking, family gatherings, and football to think of a few things in your life that you’re grateful for.

1) My family.

It’s a standard answer that you hear a lot, but that doesn’t make it less true. I like to say that my family is abnormally normal. I didn’t realize this until I went to college, but every year I take the time to appreciate how close my family is. For example, I have never seen my parents fight. Disagree, yes, but never have they had an angry confrontation where I could see it. So I am thankful for their example, and that they taught me that disagreements can be handled in a calm, rational manner without the need to resort to shouting or insults. They also taught me that there are men who willingly do dishes and laundry. Go, Dad!

2) The internet.

No, I’m not saying that just to be funny, I really am thankful for the internet. I remember being taught to use a card catalogue in the library in elementary school. I remember using it once or twice in middle school. And I remember how much easier it was to do research when the card catalogue was moved online. As somebody who aspires to at least passible accuracy in her writing, I cannot understate how wonderful it is to have access to so much information with a few keystrokes.

And it’s not just research. I have made some great friends online. Email, chatrooms, skype, google hangouts, facebook and all the other ways the internet has come up with to help people meet or to stay connected with old friends, I am thankful for them all!

3) It’s the 21st century

There are so many facets to this particular bit of thanks, but I’ll only touch on a few. Mobility is one. I live over 800 miles from the rest of my family, yet I can get there in a few hours. Medicine is another. Enough research into Regency medicine will make anybody grateful for the scientific approach to medicine we have these days.

The biggest part of this bit of thankfulness, however, is due to the amazing societal advancements in gender equality. (Don’t ask me how it came about, cause I don’t remember, but sexism has been a hot-button topic for me since I was about 6 and is still a pet peeve of mine.) I was encouraged to further my education, and nobody batted an eye when I chose a career in science. Women can own property, and I am thankful to own my condo. I am thankful to live in a time where, if a man beats his wife, he has committed a crime not exercised a completely acceptable form of discipline over his ‘property’. I am thankful to live in a time where my value as a human being is determined by more than my ability to cook, clean, and bear children (I’m passible at the first, hate doing the second, and have yet to meet a man that has tempted me to attempt the third). I have the final word on what happens to my body, and I am thankful for that as well.

There is still plenty of room for further progress. Subtle biases in perceptions of men and women result in men being judged more competent than women on the basis of identical applications. (Here is a rundown of that article in less technical terms for a quicker read.) When women do get hired, they often get paid less for the same work. And there are a few difficulties in the other direction as well. For example paternity leave is not as accepted in the workplace as is maternity leave. But there is no denying that much progress has been made. I hope the trend continues.

4) Jane Austen and Jane Austen Fanfiction.

Did you think I was going to forget? Not likely. Jane Austen’s novels have been a comfort and a source of inspiration since I first read Pride and Prejudice eight years ago. I have gotten countless hours of entertainment out of her stories and the many what-if scenarios created my other authors. And that’s to say nothing of the community surrounding her works. What started out as a diversion from graduate school has grown into a full-blown obsession, complete with mutually-obsessed friends. (Hi gals! You know who you are!) Rarely does a day go by without spending some time with Jane or fellow Janites, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

One Good Thing

Ah, the holiday season. Time for radio stations driving you mad with repetitive music, incessant ads for the latest toys (which, I’ll grant you, are much less annoying than campaign ads), decorations, lights, overeating, and odd family traditions.

It is also time for thoughtful reflection. Reflection on the past year, making plans for the future. And in a few days, a day set aside for giving thanks. It’s enough to make me give in to temptation to wax philosophical.

Last weekend I had plenty of time for reflecting. Traveling will do that. Especially when you travel alone. And you get stuck in traffic.

Rush hour traffic.

In Chicago.

I’m not saying there’s nowhere in the world with worse traffic. I know there is. But Chicago is the first place I’ve lived where people actually sounded proud of how bad the traffic was. “Chicago traffic is worse than New York traffic,” I was told when I moved here, as though that were some sort of selling point. (Maybe it is, but for New York.)

So, anyway, I’m driving myself to the airport after a long week, and a trip that takes about 35 minutes without traffic turns into a 2 hour extravaganza of brake lights, people cutting other people off, and always feeling like I picked the losing lane, just like I always seem to do at the grocery store.

With nobody else in the car, I had nothing to distract me from thinking about how much I hated being stuck in traffic. Trust me, it wasn’t pretty. It wasn’t until later, when the irritation wore off, that I was able to attempt some philosophy.

And then I thought back to something I heard a few weeks ago. When you find yourself in a situation that is not meeting your expectations, before you write off the whole thing as a lost cause, look for one good thing. The original statement was referring to a situation like a lecture, play, movie, or similar, but it could apply to anything.

Really, it’s just another way of saying look for the silver lining, but it’s a way that fits my head better. Silver linings always struck me as a way of saying that something less than ideal was going to have a good outcome after all. That might be true, but when I’m feeling frustrated, I usually don’t want to hear it. On the other hand, looking for one good thing, I can handle. Instead of having to spin the entire situation, I can admit that some things didn’t turn out the way I would have liked, and just focus on finding one detail that was good. And if I get that detail and hold on to it, then the experience has some meaning that I can take away, and I can go home without feeling like I just wasted my time.

So this holiday season, while contemplating thanks, and peace and joy, and standing in the seemingly endless lines at the store to pay for my purchases, I will be attempting to find one good thing.

I am sorry to report, however, that I have yet to find a good thing about being stuck in traffic for two hours. If you can figure that one out, let me know.

An Interview

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked if she could interview me for a class project. The interview would be turned into a speech that she would have to give to the class. She decided to send me the questions by email so that I could answer at my convenience (and so she wouldn’t have to be furiously scribbling notes as I talked), which means that I have a copy of my own interview sitting in the sent folder of my email.

And then I thought, “Why not share it?”

So, here it is. The questions are pretty generic, which means that some of them aren’t really questions you would normally ask a part time, self-published author. But I did my best. I’ve put explanations and comments in brackets. Enjoy.

1. How did you decide to enter this field? [I mentally translated this as "How did you decide to write and publish Jane Austen fanfiction?]

I discovered Jane Austen the year after I graduated college. I was living abroad with a number of other people, and one of them had the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice. I am a staunch believer in book before movie, so when the movie caught my interest, I promptly left the room and sought out the book. It wasn’t long before I had finished both book and miniseries.

From there, it took me several more years to discover fanfiction. The first step was when I was once again living abroad (in a different country this time). I bought an electronic copy of Pamela Aiden’s trilogy (An Assembly Such as This, Duty and Desire, and These Three Remain). I read them all. At the time, it didn’t even occur to me to look online, but I did eventually discover several communities online.

As I read my way through just about every story I could get my hands on, I started thinking about what kind of story I might write. I was in graduate school at the time, and writing became a way to relieve stress. I never expected much of a response and was surprised when people started commenting. It astounded me that so many people were reading my writing.

From there, it was not much of a leap to attempting to self-publish, which I did out of pure curiosity to see what would happen. That, too, has been more successful than I anticipated!

2. What kind of education and training do you have?

For writing, none beyond the required high school classes and voracious reading in my own time. Since I started writing more, I’ve been frequenting blogs and other forums for writing advice, and I hope to take some classes in the future.

As for education in general, I am an evolutionary biologist specializing in the study of animal behavior.

3. What are your activities and responsibilities on the job? [This is one of the questions that made me shake my head a bit.]

The primary activity is striving to get words down on paper (or into a computer). When I’m stuck, I will move from one medium to the other, or switch to editing or outlining in order to clarify my ideas. But that’s not the only thing I do. Once the words are out of my head, I often find they don’t fully convey the picture that I had in my head. So there is editing. I have several wonderful beta readers who brainstorm with me when I’m stuck and assist me with editing.

4. Generally with organizations, individual workers do not make all decisions.  How are work decisions made in your organization? [And this is another one.]

I am my organization. This is not to discount the invaluable help of my betas. One beta comments mainly on the structure and pace of story in general, the second helps me keep my characters in character (although she is picky about dialogue, and will often comment on that as well), and the third gets the story when it’s complete and reads it through almost all at once fixing grammar and commenting on the story as a whole. But it is up to me to decide what, if anything, to do with their input. (In case you’re curious, I almost always listen to their sage advice.)

5. How much influence do you have over those decisions?

See the question above. Since I am self-published and don’t have an official editor, I am the final authority on what goes into or gets cut from my stories.

6.  What do you like best about your job? Least?

What I like most:
The freedom to explore new ideas. I can create characters and watch how they react to situations. I love finding a believable solution for my characters to use when confronted with a difficult tangle of problems. It’s a great intellectual challenge.

What I like least?

Writer’s block. It’s particularly nasty because this is not my primary job. My “official” jobs take precedence, and sometimes they leave very little time for focusing on my writing. This makes breaking out of a block a bit difficult.

7. What do you find most difficult about your job?

Finding time to do it. Mixed in with all my responsibilities is writing. It is a side job with no deadlines, and it’s easy to relegate it to a level down the hierarchy of important things that need to be doing. Coming home from a day of work at my other jobs it’s often an effort to sit down and open the file, let alone get any words out.

Second place is when I come up with something I want to change that requires me to edit almost all of the story up to the point where I am. Finding all the little comments and facts that need to be changed requires very careful reading.

8.What about the job would you change if you could?

There is nothing about the job that needs to be changed. Only in how I approach it. Just about every advice page ever written includes the advice “write every day.” And I aspire to do that some day soon. Really…

9.What sort of person do you have to be to be really good at this job?

I think, like in many jobs, you have to be able to pay attention to detail. There are a lot of little things that go into good writing.

Another very useful trait is having a bit of a thick skin when it comes to reviews. Everybody has their own reading preferences, and not every person who buys and reads your story will like it. Some will be quite vocal in their dislike. It feels personal, because it is an attack on your baby, something you poured your heart into, as well as countless hours of thinking, plotting, writing, rewriting, editing and so on. But it’s not personal in any way you can do anything about. It’s just that your story wasn’t for them. The only criticism you can avoid is the technical sort. Punctuate your story properly. After that, almost everything else is personal preference of the reader.

10. What specific advice would you give to a person entering this field?

First, tell your story. Some writers will write for an audience, and maybe that works for them, but I find it best to not worry about writing for the mainstream. It is your story. Write what you feel needs to be written, not what you think other people will want to read. There is somebody, somewhere, who will appreciate your effort, which is a bonus, but write primarily for yourself.

Second, find somebody to give you feedback. Brainstorm with other people, get them to read what you’ve written and consider their suggestions. Things that make sense in your head might not make sense to other people, and an editor, beta or just a friend can give you a good idea of what is working and what is not.

11. Where do you expect to go from here?

Right now I am editing a second story for publication and not so patiently chipping away at the writer’s block facing me on my third. I hope to continue this as a secondary occupation. I don’t expect to make this a full time job, and for me, that’s okay. It is still a source of pleasure for me, and I don’t want to turn it into a source of stress instead.