Letters…We Get Letters

Letters…We Get Letters

Our friend Elaine Owen suggested that I consider dipping my toe in the fan fiction board waters. She said that doing so helps readers stay involved with your writing between publications.

What she did not say was just how useful and wonderful the reviews can be.

I have been releasing chapters of my latest WIP In Plain Sight since mid-November. To date, I will have posted about 40 chapters for your reading pleasure. The full book will be published by Meryton Press in the Third Quarter.

The reception for the book has been outstanding. Feedback is positive. Some suggestions are even better. Bouquets tossed my way are gratefully accepted.

From a guest (Confrontation in the St. Margaret’s Vicarage)

I love this level-headed Mary, so sure of herself. In canon she is usually portrayed as a wallflower who has nothing to contribute to any sensible conversation. Here, she holds her own among the men.

I love this Darcy, still capable of self-sacrifice to protect those he loves, but a lot more willing to make room in his way of thinking for the inputs of a real partner. THIS is a man without fault: strong AND flexible, instead of unbending. Intelligent enough to know his own blind spots. Principled, but not uncompromising. No, we cannot laugh at him.

I love this Lizzy, ready to shoulder the burdens and embrace the joys of a future of her own making. She retained her good humor and let go of her stubbornness. She still misjudges, but now gives fair opportunity to those she judges to present their views. She listens and she adapts. THIS is a woman who knows herself.

Early on, a reviewer caught some mistakes I made in the names of Napoleonic-era generals. I had these greats commanding the wrong divisions. Others pointed out some factual inconsistencies.

At this point, I will admit that in the universe within which I write my Pride and Prejudice variations, the sentence of internal transportation exists. I needed to keep my Mr. Smith on Great Britain’s soil so he could meet Elizabeth. That act of creation (although in post-Revolutionary America…and notably the post-Civil War South…sentences to hard labor were the norm) allowed me to set my characters into the mold which I desired.

Other reviewer comments inspired examination of similar, but different notions from the comment. A reviewer noted that the River Ver flows through St. Albans. That was a nice note, however, my Meryton is set on the Mimram River. The river in St. Albans had nothing to do with the story. The reviewer was looking at a phrase in Chapter Four which had the Bennet Coach crossing a bridge above the Mimram-Thames Canal that was under construction near Longbourn. Something niggled in my mind.

I looked at the map…for I had not considered where the Mimram emptied before that moment. I had assumed that, since Meryton was only 24 miles from London, the stream flowed into the Thames. WRONG! The Mimram joins the Lea in Hertford. The Lea is a tributary of the Thames.

That simple pointer forced me to change the name of the Canal Company. It also demanded that Edward and Mary (helping Smith and Lizzy flee Meryton) were “going to Hertford” by the long way…rather than “Ware.”

Often reviewers key on my writing. The following caused a full paragraph of florid writing to vanish. Reader eyes are frequently the best eyes of all.

402Michelle (after the disaster at the ball)

Exciting, if not deplorably gut-wrenching chapter. Of course, following the previous chapter how could it be otherwise.

A bit over the top pedantic in the paragraph regarding Mr. Bennet entering the library and sitting down with Elizabeth. I had to read that awkward two paragraphs a few times…to get it. It could’ve stopped with the first part and cut to the chase. Yes, it was agonizing for Elizabeth to having to wait for the comfort of her father. But that chapter pulled me away from the story. I was waiting for the ax to fall and hoping for the comfort too. The part starting with ‘The closer it came…’ could have been entirely left out. The rest of the chapter fulfilled the purpose of itself; Papa’s support, Mr. Bennet’s plan for their safety.

Of course, this is a love story. Although the couple (Smith and Elizabeth) explore their feelings throughout Book Two, it is not until they are hidden in plain sight as a maid and a farmworker at Hedgebrook House that they declare themselves.

From Nessy22 (Declarations of Love at Hedgebrook)

Wow, this euphoria has swapped over to me! Wonderfully told with much energy, that is felt, while reading. This was an amazingly romantic, poetic, and liberating scene! I’m quite overwhelmed… phew I also am happy, they found to each other again (yes, Lizzy needs her time there, as known :). But now, they are free!

However, sometimes a reviewer finds a huge problem and shakes you by the lapels screaming (without knowledge…until this very moment) What were you thinking? Truth here: I had intended Caroline Bingley to be the catalyst for the plot crux that forced Smith and Lizzy (as well as Mary and Edward) to take flight. Likewise, Caroline’s actions forced the rest of the Bennet family (under Bingley’s protection as Mr. Bennet stayed at Longbourn) to run to Gracechurch Street.

My plan had Miss Bingley then dropping out of the book, only to be referred to as having married our villain, Sir Thaddeus Soames. Soames was to have been the only one “to get his.” Caroline would have “gotten hers” through being chained to this awful man.

At least one (one of my favorite commentators) was having none of that (although unknowingly).

From J.W. Garrett (The catastrophe at the Netherfield Ball)

How can I sleep after reading this? Huh? I mean… I have NEVER disliked anyone as I do Caroline Bingley at this moment. Don’t you DARE let her get off easy… with just a slap on the wrist. I want a damage report. I want her to suffer. I want blood drawn. GRRR! I am so upset I can’t breathe.

And Collins… will he have ANY idea what he has done? Will he even care? Ahh! I want to string him up by his… um… well perhaps I need to go to bed. What will Bennet do to Collins for setting this in motion… anything? Will Bennet get in trouble for having Smith on his property? He is the magistrate. SIR Thaddeus has a bit more clout than he did before. He now outranks Bennet and can cause trouble for him. Dang! This hurt.

Although, I do have to admit… it was like reading poetry. That was beautifully written even if I hated seeing it happen to Elizabeth. I can’t see a way out of this. Aaahhh! I want to yell or scream or something! Soames is like a dog with a bone. Caroline has set something in motion that will not be satisfied until he sees that servant at the dower house with his own eyes. He won’t let it go. I’m dying here.

And that, dear reader, added two chapters to the book. I could not let Caroline off by marrying her to a slime ball. She had to wed the slug and then share his fate after Elizabeth (aided by Lady Eleanor Fitzwilliam, the Countess of Matlock) skins her and hangs her hide on the barndoor.

No, I am not giving you that chapter…rather the setup.

Please enjoy.

&&&&

This excerpt from a Work-In-Progress, In Plain Sight: A Pride and Prejudice Variation, is © 2020 by Don Jacobson. Any reproduction is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.

Chapter XXVIII

The Harvest Ball unwound as expected. The first two sets passed without any untoward incident. Elizabeth had shaken her sense of foreboding as the Ball progressed. She was pleased to see her father taking Lydia and Kitty in hand, squelching their high spirits by regularly sniffing their glasses of punch and sending withering glares at any scarlet tunic that supposed to take advantage of impressionable young ladies. Even her mother had moderated her behavior and had settled into a low-tone bout of chin wagging gossip with Mrs. Long and Lady Lucas as they watched the younger crowd circulate through the steps.

MAA283763 Harvest Moon, ‘globed in mellow splendour’, 1879 (pencil, w/c & bodycolour on paper) (see also 149129) by Allingham, Helen (1848-1926); 16.5×13.3 cm; Private Collection; Photo © The Maas Gallery, London; English, out of copyright

William Collins, suitably cowed by a baronet’s presence, had managed to avoid injuring anyone through his clumsiness. He had done the pretty by requesting a set from many of the neighborhood ladies, although at this early stage he had yet to do more than dance with Miss Lucas while Miss Catherine Bennet had assented to accompany him in the second.

Collins’ supper was, sadly in his estimation of his prospects as a suitor, open. He could entice no single female to stand up, and, thus, sit down with him. Hunsford’s vicar, before filling his plate and settling in with the Bennet party, stood on the sidelines to observe the dance. He hummed an off-key, asynchronous, accompaniment to the small orchestra’s efforts. From time-to-time, he sipped the brackish thin lemonade served to cool the revelers after their exertions. Collins had been told that the watery liquid was a faithful replication of the brew served by Almack’s Patronesses. He admired Miss Bingley’s attention to the smallest detail. What impressed him even more was that she followed the example of the arbiters of all that was correct in the ton.

About twenty minutes earlier, one of the red-coated officer guests had offered to “sweeten” the brew with a bit of the hair of the dog. Collins, not wishing to seem above the company, readily agreed. A sizeable dollop was added to his cup. Soon a warm fuzziness flooded the cleric’s sinuses, numbing the tip of his nose, and reddening his ears and cheeks.

William Collins was enjoying himself.

As the set continued, he wandered back to where the refreshments had been laid out. As he approached the table, he heard a lady’s voice berating someone.

“How could you have been so clumsy? Those coupes were imported French crystal and are…or should I say, were… part of a matched set my mother imported before the war!

“Yet you, fumble-fingers, crush one while polishing it? I will see its cost deducted from your wages, and I promise you, it will be dear!”

Collins looked closely as the audience parted to see a tall, red-headed lady in a seafoam-green gown snarling at a cowering footman. After she had dismissed the quivering soul to some darkened dungeon near the kitchens, Mr. Collins approached.

In his most unctuous voice, for he recognized her as his hostess, Miss Bingley, “Allow me to commend you, Madam, for your discernment and fine taste. I may be a humble clergyman, but I would account this evening’s festivities as being near perfect. Why, my patroness, Lady Catherine DeBourgh of Rosings Park, would see little that needed any remediation.

“I would go so far as to say that she would offer only one or two constructive suggestions to assist you in your future efforts.

“In truth, Miss Bingley, whatever Lady Catherine chose to point out would only be apprehended by society’s highest. The fine folk here tonight, their senses dulled by living outside of the first circles, will never understand the nuances a competent hostess will adjust to complete the experience.”

Caroline’s eyes narrowed at the mixed compliments offered by the sweaty, silly man by her side. She was too polite, and too near the doors to the dining area, to allow her earlier ire at the footman’s crime to overtake her best manners. Her response was neutral.

“You are Bennet’s cousin…the clergyman Mr. Collins…are you not?” she asked.

“Indeed, Miss Bingley, I am he. I have the privilege of being the heir to Longbourn as Mrs. Bennet was thoroughly unsuccessful in birthing any sons,” Collins replied.

“I see,” Caroline dryly said, casting her eyes about the room for some excuse to cut short this brief but already tiresome conversation.

Collins forged ahead, “I do hope that you will forgive my presumption in approaching you. I could not help but overhear you correcting that servant who had damaged an heirloom. Lady Catherine is known for her desire to instruct the lower classes in proper deportment, especially when it comes to handling her property. Although you do not know my patroness, I can assure you that you are certainly following in her footsteps.

“And, I am positive…”

Caroline let Collins’ drone recede into the background as she caught sight of Richard Fitzwilliam with Eliza Bennet moving across the parquet floor. His attention to that country chit curdled her insides. Although her sights had shifted in recent days, she refused to concede any suitor to another woman. Miss Bingley’s manner became increasingly brittle, and she ground her teeth behind thinned lips. Collins’ prattle softly buffeted against her subconscious…and continued to do so until he said something which immediately caught her attention.

“…and I am frustrated that Mr. Bennet refuses to heed my counsel. After all, I am to be Longbourn’s master! One would think that he would be more concerned about the behavior of one of his older daughters. I can understand if he chooses to ignore the hoydenish attitudes of the infants…”

Caroline interrupted, “Behavior of one of his older daughters? Of what and who are you speaking, Mr. Collins?”

Collins preened. While the man condemned gossip as uncharitable and skirting the limits of proper Christian manners, he loved being able to inform the world at large about the weaknesses of others.

His voice strengthened as if he were in his Hunsford pulpit, “Why thank you for your interest, Miss Bingley, in knowing which of your neighbors, in this case, your nearest, are acting in ways that are contrary to good social order. As Lady Catherine has said time and again…”

Caroline huffed, “Thank you, Mr. Collins, however, please stick to the facts of the tale about…”

Collins paused, collected himself, and replied, “You are correct. Perhaps you might be able to provide this young lady the sort of guidance her father clearly refuses to give. I am speaking of Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

“I had originally planned to bring her back to Kent as my wife—Lady Catherine insisted that I extend an olive branch of peace to my cousins and marry one of them to heal the rift in our family brought on by the Longbourn entail,” again he paused at Caroline’s growl, “but she proved herself thoroughly unsuitable. I could not countenance a fallen woman as my helpmeet.

“I came upon her at the Longbourn Dower House consorting with a servant!

“She told me all that she had meant to do was chastise him, but her laying of hands upon the man beggared the truth!

“T’was Eve and the serpent all over again!”

Urged on by Caroline’s continued prodding, the story as perceived by William Collins, tumbled out. At some point, she ceased looking at his greasy countenance and again focused upon the dancers.

There was something more to Collins’ dissertation, though; something which gleamed through like a diamond buried in a coal pile. Miss Bingley had seen the posters outside of Meryton’s shops. The description, while rudimentary, seemed remarkably similar to that which she drew from the unsuspecting bumbling fool of a vicar.

She scrutinized Lizzy dancing and laughing with Fitzwilliam. At some point, the germ of an idea that had been held closely since the day of the invitation exploded into malevolent flower. Caroline would ruin her and win her baronet at the same time.

As her resolve hardened, Caroline noticed that Collins had actually wound down. She thanked the man for his care and concern about propriety within his family. Then Miss Bingley excused herself by saying that she needed to attend to the upcoming meal.

She made her way through the crowd searching out her next target: Sir Thaddeus.

Caroline spotted him in a small group just outside the card room. The man was holding court with a few of the minor landowners who hung on his every word. The more senior men like Mr. Bennet and Mr. Goulding were nowhere to be found. The younger masters were still on the dancefloor, although the dinner break was fast approaching.

Bestowing her best smile upon every one of the gentlemen, she reserved its brilliant center for only one man. He responded as all men had done ever since she had discovered her own tigress’ power: his chest puffed out a little fuller, his shoulders squared, and his chin jutted ever-so-much more.

Miss Bingley crossed straight through the group until she stood directly in front of Soames. Then she shifted her gaze to John Lucas who was standing on the baronet’s right. She held that stare until the young man mumbled something about needing to escort his sister into dinner, nervously bowed, and left the group. Caroline floated into the notch ripped in the group’s circumference and waited for Sir Thaddeus to shift so that he was facing her head-on.

After receiving the gentleman’s cordial greetings, Caroline went to work. She widened her emerald orbs and bored deeply into Soames’ eyes. She took a moment to allow him to become mesmerized.

Then in a slightly infantilized, poor-little-me, my-life-is-now-complete voice that never failed to melt even the hardest of men, she began her campaign, “I cannot tell you how happy I was to be led out by you in tonight’s first set. I will own to being surprised that you would find the time for these sorts of social events given the demands on your time, especially now since your elevation to baronet.”

At this, she stopped and waited for Sir Thaddeus to fill in the conversational gap with the appropriate protestations about how he could not have missed such a stellar event and so on. Once the man had accomplished that small feat, Caroline continued.

“I have been, I fear, rather nervous. I nearly asked my brother, Mr. Bingley, you know, to close up Netherfield and return to Town. The entire neighborhood has been in an uproar since that convict escaped into the forest.”

Soames’ face darkened that this fine lady was so frightened over something that could not, should not, be. Wadkins had assured him that all was in hand, and the body would not be discovered until Spring if ever. While Soames was displeased at his man’s excesses, what was one convict more or less?

Yet, his heart was sorely taxed to see the quiver in Miss Bingley’s lip and the hint of diamonds upon her lashes. He ached to ease her worries.

The baronet said fervently, “I promise you, dear lady, I have teams of men scouring the entire area. If that convict is still in the vicinity, we will find him. However, he would be a fool to stay around here. Based upon that thought, I have been making inquiries as far south as Portsmouth and off to Liverpool in the west. He is either on one of our frigates heading to the Blockade or on a merchant bringing goods to Cousin Jonathan.”

“Everybody, Sir Thaddeus, is talking about it,” Caroline pushed, “Rumors are rife. Some have seen him at the coaching inn waiting for a seat to the north. Others claim he is hiding out amongst the millworkers down by the river.

“I even spoke with someone who told me,” at this, she raised her voice a notch to include not just the gentlemen who had joined Sir Thaddeus, but also women who were advancing to collect their husbands, “that a man matching the description—tall, dark-haired, a claret-colored birthmark on his left forearm—on the poster was seen consorting with Miss Elizabeth Bennet at the Longbourn Dower House not a fortnight ago!

“Now, I never would have imagined it of a gentlewoman from such a distinguished family. My source says that Miss Eliza claimed t’was only one of Longbourn’s servants.

“However, I have been to that estate several times and have never seen a man of that appearance. Maybe he truly was one of the workingmen on the estate. Maybe he was not someone convicted of Heaven only knows what. What seems obvious is that he was not of her class. If this is the case, how can the gentry shun those of us who have improved ourselves from our family backgrounds in trade when their own daughters do not distinguish between lessers and betters?”

By now, all conversation had ceased in that corner of the ballroom.

Caroline’s first-ever gambit where she implicitly admitted the roots of her family’s fortune struck an emotional chord with Sir Thaddeus. He was, himself, only a half-year removed from the stench of trade. When she saw his face go pale and then become suffused in the crimson rising from beneath his neckcloth, Caroline knew that her bolt had struck home.

Everything Thaddeus had fought for from his days as a child in Liverpool’s gutters was in danger simply because Wadkins had more muscle than brains. That thug could never control his instincts when it came to his lessers. Yet, such a talent was what made him so useful to Soames. The newly minted aristocrat cared little about the chattel he had purchased, only in what they could deliver to his coffers. How far he had come from a man who sold blackamoors for their labor before the Year Nine to one who kept strings of those His Majesty classified as but one step above slaves. Nobody would care if he ended his year with one less in his employ. The man was a convict, utterly beneath anyone’s notice, including his mother’s, whore that she probably was.

This man, this Smith, was lucky not to have been hung outright, although Britain’s punishments had been brought into the 19th Century, especially after the unfortunate events in France during the Terror. Then those who had been kept down rose up and struck at their masters. Soames could understand that hatred. He, himself, had felt it when a rich man’s carriage had splashed him with street grime…or footmen had pushed him into the gutter when a wealthy lady moved along the walk before entering a sweet shop the insides of which the child Soames could only hope to imagine.

Everything was imperiled. He could never hope to win an accomplished woman like Miss Bingley with this sword hanging over his head.

On top of his visceral fear of being tossed back into the dung heap of trade, he knew that he had to see this man at the Dower House if only to confirm that he was just a poor sod working out his days chopping weeds for Bennet.

Soames could not stop himself, though, from plunging ahead without protecting his heart. He was drawn to Miss Bingley, pulled by her beauty and magnetic personality that swirled him in a whirlpool centered upon those unforgettable green eyes.

Impulsively, he reached out for her hand and bowed over it saying, “I can never imagine you, dear lady, as ever being anything less than the nonpareil that you are. You and your family have proven that Englishmen, when given the opportunity, can lift themselves from coarse backgrounds into the highest levels of society. Fear not that any but the most narrow-minded will punish you because your ancestors earned their keep not by exploiting tenants but rather through the dint of their own wits.

“As for your desire to amend a dangerous situation despite the elevated connections of those who may be abetting the malefactor, I can only commend you.”

His delicate speech, belying his rough exterior, caused Caroline to flush that cherry tone which was so becoming on ginger-haired ladies. She snapped open her fan and hide her crimson cheeks behind its fluttering silk. She coyly turned away. She sensed Soames standing just over her left shoulder.

Together, they watched the damage Caroline’s declarations had wrought.

What had begun as a low murmur spread quickly from the epicenter made up by the couple. Plumed turbans bobbed throughout the ballroom in a queer ballet dipping first together and then spinning away to cross with other gaudy ornaments. Rumor and innuendo swept across the room like a brush fire fleeing before an autumn wind. Closer, ever closer, it came to the small grouping of Bennet women celebrating their sister and daughter’s wedding day. Caroline watched in macabre fascination as the object of her envy laughed unaware of the approaching disaster.

Then, like a gigantic comber slamming into the rocks of Enys Dodnan, the flood hit the Bennet party, parting around it in a gigantic splash before subsiding back into the roiled crowd.[i] The ladies could not have appeared more shocked if they had been drenched with icy seawater. Eyes were widened. What did she say was silently mouthed and bewildered looks were cast around the hall.

Eventually, though, as if she had willed it, Elizabeth Bennet’s dark eyes reached out across the great hall to catch upon the satisfied and triumphant glare sent her way by Miss Bingley’s emerald ones. Longbourn’s daughter paled, and she quickly looked away. Caroline could apprehend the moment the young lady began to weep as her shoulders began to spasmodically hike up and down. Then the other five women quickly closed ranks and obscured her.

Caroline, savoring her victory and the annihilation of a rival, even though she had set her own sights elsewhere, elegantly turned to speak to Sir Thaddeus only to discover him gone.

[i] Remarkable formations at Land’s End, Cornwall.

11 Responses to Letters…We Get Letters

  1. Don, I absolutely adore your writing! And I’m so tickled pink that you started posting on FF and are benefiting from all the interaction and feedback. It’s wonderful to get those comments, isn’t it? Especially from passionate and involved readers like the ones highlighted here!

    • The JAFF Reader-Writer Get Together last November was an epiphany for me. Mostly, of course, because I met you face-to-face. Your guidance and advice on top of your friendship has been invaluable. What I wrote here about the support and guidance from readers as I posted the WIP is an understatement. While I am pulling down the story today, if it is still there, please check out the reviews and the pointers some very astute readers have made. As many can attest to, I have used the Private Message function to discouss their thoughts in greater detail. HINT: I am still fiddling with the idea of inserting a paragraph (and only that) on Mrs. Reynolds just before the final ending. As for an epilogue… In #Austenesque fiction…an Epilogue is often traditional. Most of us wanted to know what happened to Jane and Lizzy or Anne and the Captain after “The End.” However, the point of the plotline was to get the characters and the readers to that exact point. Everything after that was…well…anticlimactic so Miss Austen set her pen onto the writing slope. I am firm on the ending of this book without an Epilogue. The HEA is there…and can be extended in the readers’ imaginations.

  2. Congratulations on your new book, I read a lot of Harry Potter FanFiction on FanFiction.net but have not been reading as much Pride and Prejudice FanFiction there recently. I also use another FanFiction site called archiveofourown.org in case you are interested in checking out other sites as well. I know a lot of authors post on both of because to reach a wider audience because apparently some people decided they didn’t like the censoring process at FanFiction.net.

  3. Congratulations Don! I am looking forward to reading this! You certainly have some wonderful comments from your fan fiction reviewers/followers!

  4. Aahh, Don, that was amazing. Snicker, I had no idea you would quote my rant. That was hilarious to read it again and didn’t realize I was so upset. In reading the set up again… and I read every word… I am again caught by the poetry of the situation. I can see it so vividly as it plays in slow-motion across the ballroom. That was amazing. I love, Love, LOVE this story. Yes, it is long but I’ve never seen D&E in a situation like this. It is totally unique in its variation and was so… well… amazing. Thank you for this story. And, I must say, those extra chapters where you took care of Caroline were the best part of the story. I enjoyed what you did to her almost as much as what you did to Soames [the scum-bag]. I kept going back just to read it again. I couldn’t help myself. Fabulous set-down and Elizabeth was the ‘cream of the ton’ at that moment, even if she didn’t know it. Woohoo. Lady Matlock had never seen anything like it. What a scene. I don’t want to give a spoiler but everyone should read it. Congratulations on the future launch and I will be in line waiting patiently for it. Blessings!!

    • Well, you…your comments and reviews have been so helpful. Thank you for your kind words. The story will be available on fanfic.net until 2/28/20. I look forward to all comments.

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