The voice nagged me out of the space into which my mind had retreated. My eyes drifted open, and I saw Eliza, my spin instructor, materializing out of the fog of pain and sweat that had been my lot for the past 45 minutes.
“Don’t leave now. You always leave before the hour is up!” she urged.
Now, in my defense, this was not me leaving. Not this time. I had been back at spin—my preferred form of intense cardiovascular exercise—for nearly six weeks ever since I had shaken that nasty upper-rez infection when I caught went to the JAFF Reader-Writer Get-together in DC (thanks, Victoria!). Today, sure, I had stopped pedaling. Not from weariness, though, but rather because my mind had wandered off as I wrestled with a knotty (or, perhaps, naughty) problem in the plot of my latest variation. Sometimes the thread vanishes in the undergrowth of all that becomes, in the moment, so interesting.
I am not a meditation adept. I cannot drop into a trance-like a Zen Master. I have to beat all of the noisome little creatures into submission. Almost every writer hears those little voices crying out in the darkness: their sole mission is to divert you from moving the story along.
Did you get the car rental in Seattle?
The dishes are still in the sink!
Pee-you…that litter box needs changing!
In the light of day, the story that kept you awake last night with unique and wonderful twists and turns becomes a grey and painful slog. That is when so many interesting thoughts rear their ugly little heads to divert you/me.
Spin class stresses every part of me: body and mind. That delicious weariness forces me to attend to only one thought-thread. Competing influences, the noises of my life, are banished. Now, this fatigue is all-consuming and does not allow expansive plot structures. What I usually find is that my mind is allowed to wander through the garden of that which I have written, pruning, of course, but more often fertilizing.
These moments are when my mind can turn itself to the problems that have been niggling away in the background…by bringing them forward.
Then I send myself emails.
January 23, 2020
I am bound by law and honor not to speak it [my name] until I am released from my obligation to society.
January 21, 2020
You know he belongs to Aunt Catherine
January 15, 2020
Lizzy said, “I had hoped otherwise, but there is nothing for it.”
Papa replied, “Our reputation is not worth your,” and then he looked at Edward and Mary, “…none of my children’s lives.”
January 11, 2020
Have Edward and Mary talking on the wagon’s box. Would he have thought it of the old Mary?
She breathed, “Oh no, my love. The old me would have snapped that any savage could dance. Now I realize that cavorting like this is a sign of pure joy. Recall Old King David in the Temple when the Lord saved Israel. And even our Savior loved a good party. I recollect something to do with wine…”
The fatigue of strenuous exercise opens the doors of my mind much as Mrs. Shelley’s waking dreams were those epiphanies when her inhibitions were cast off. Not everything that is released will appear in my work. But I believe the process offers readers a more interesting and involving work.
In my latest effort, In Plain Sight, I faced the question of how to distract Caroline Bingley from her pursuit of Richard Fitzwilliam in his guise as guardian of both Georgiana and Pemberley in Darcy’s enforced absence. Eventually (after a few weeks of working out), I came to understand that a villain can be more than simply a threat to one person. A bad actor can also be an opportunity for someone else. All too often we fall into the convenient trap of making the villains bad to everyone. Recall the old saying For every pot there is a lid. As I wrestled with the problem of Miss Bingley, I came to realize that this was the solution.
Please see this excerpt from In Plain Sight. I am also VERY EXCITED to announce that the novel will be published by Meryton Press during the summer. More details to come.
This excerpt from the Work In Progress “In Plain Sight” is ©2020 by Donald P. Jacobson. Any reproduction without the expressed written consent of the author is prohibited. Published in the United States of America.
Papa and his visitor entered the room, stopping at the edge of the seating area. Mr. Bennet performed the niceties after first securing Sir Thaddeus’s permission to present his wife and daughters. He seemed surprised that Bennet would seek his consent. Unfamiliar with the social ballet, Soames crossed the room and held out his hand first to Fitzwilliam and next to Bingley who introduced his sister.
The word baronet instantly attracted the attention of the two elder ladies and the two youngest, although Lydia and Kitty quickly abandoned their perusal as soon as they sighted the frost at Sir Thaddeus’ temples. Mrs. Bennet and Miss Bingley, on the other hand, both devoted their entire focus to the newcomer.
While he bore a distinguished title, to Mrs. Bennet’s eye, Sir Thaddeus appeared anything but eminent. His face bore the scars of life’s battles, and his nose was battered like a pugilist’s. His physique tended toward bulk, not unlike the detestable Mr. Collins, the man determined to see Fanny and her daughters in the hedgerows. Yet, any title was one more title than what was owned by either of the other two men sitting near her girls. And, Lady Soames—be it Lydia or Jane—would always take precedence over Lady Lucas, the wife of a lowly knight. Mrs. Bennet, as much as she cherished Charlotte’s mama as a lifelong friend, was too great a competitor in the Games of Venus to cede the field if a titled gentleman was on the loose. She had begun to plot her campaign when her husband approached with Soames in tow.
Mrs. Bennet primly folded her hands across her middle awaiting the pair, only to have her hopes dashed by her husband’s confidence delivered in a somber voice.
“Despite Sir Thaddeus’ friendly greeting just a moment ago, Mrs. Bennet, he is a man burdened by that which we all must know throughout life. The poor man remains in mourning for his wife sadly lost to fever and is as of yet unprepared to embark upon a search for a wife for his motherless children who even now repine at Broad Oaks in Nottinghamshire.
“Thus, I would entreat you to counsel your unmarried daughters to tread lightly in their enthusiasm to, how do you put it, catch a husband?”
Mrs. Bennet may have appeared a crass and grasping woman to those who did not know her, seemingly concerned only about the continuation of her own creature comforts after her husband’s much-anticipated demise. However, Fanny Bennet more accurately should have been understood as akin to a mother bear. Her schemes, while they would have resulted in lining her own den with dry straw and ample berries, were designed to preserve her daughters as gentlewomen: if not of the highest ranks then certainly comfortably in the squirearchy. At heart, Fanny Bennet was a good person.
Thus, her husband’s words immediately brought her visions of gilt-edged entrées into the ton for her girls to a halt. Actually, not a complete arrest, but rather, as the matron slyly concluded, an armistice, much like the Treaty of Amiens. Then, back in the Year Three, the Tyrant offered the Government exactly what it—and the dictator himself—desired most: time to redeploy and rearm, anticipating the next innings.
She reached out a hand and gently squeezed Soames’ forearm and said with sincere compassion, “Oh, Sir Thaddeus, what doleful news. You must miss your lady wife terribly. Rest assured that you may turn to Longbourn whenever you become lonely. There will always be a place at our table if the chatter of our family will lift your spirits.”
Soames had the grace to bow his head in what appeared to be thankful acceptance of Mrs. Bennet’s well-intentioned thoughts. In truth, he was concealing a small grin of amazement at Bennet’s talents at manipulating his wife.
On the contrary, Caroline Bingley had not spent nearly five-and-twenty years navigating the waters of the gentry, country or otherwise. As much as she dismissed many in trade for living in sight of their warehouses, Miss Bingley could well recall the sounds of water-driven fuller’s hammers and the clattering of looms in her father’s mills. Try as she might, she could not simply switch off her basic nature, so desirous was she to rise above the roots of her family’s incredible wealth.
And, unlike Fanny Bennet, Caroline Bingley would never have been held up as an example of Christian probity. She was not one to let the grass grow beneath her feet and was ready to seize any opportunity to advance her cause.
Her eyes flashed when Mr. Bennet named Soames’ estate. Here was a man who had but one degree of separation from his income, unlike Fitzwilliam who was only a manager over an exile’s Pemberley assets. And, while a baronet’s lady still entered the dining room behind a Countess, she surely could lord it over all those poor women married as they were to gentlemen but forced to wait upon her.
Two irons in the fire are always better than one.
Spying a writing desk moved off to one side of the chamber, Caroline sidled over and slipped her hand into her reticule to withdraw a blank invitation. She swiftly inscribed Sir Thaddeus’ name upon it before sanding it and tapping the card on the blotter.
Overhearing Mrs. Bennet’s condolences, Caroline assayed a softer, more pleasant attitude than her usual when she approached.
“Oh, my dear Sir Thaddeus, I could not help but overhear Mr. and Mrs. Bennet just now. I do hope you will accept our sympathy—my brother’s and mine—over your loss.
“While I am unable to offer you the bumptious noise of a Bennet family dinner, perhaps I might entice you to join us for our Harvest Ball in a fortnight’s time. Even though you may not be inclined to dance, I believe you will find that our French cook will excite you with an excellent dinner,” she said.
Soames flipped the card back and forth in his hand. As he did so, he cast an appraising eye over the tall redhead opposite. While he never had seen himself as God’s gift to womanhood, Soames knew that he had an earthy, almost animal, quality about him that excited some females. Even though the Bingley woman spoke in social niceties, he could sense her leaning toward him as if she were iron filings drawn to his lodestone.
He flashed a look her way and replied, “I am gratified at your thoughtfulness, Miss Bingley. I am certain that you were unaware that I had come into the neighborhood to meet with Mr. Bennet on a matter of Canal business, and, thus, the invitation to your ball is a sign of your good breeding and talents as a hostess for Mr. Bingley.
“I would be pleased to accept your invitation and hope that the inclusion of a single gentleman will not cause an imbalance between the sexes in the line of dance.
“Speaking of which: if I am the highest-ranking gentleman to attend your festivities, might I presume to ask for the honor of leading you out in the first set? My dear wife, may God rest her soul, loved to dance. Annie found our neighborhood assemblies to be one of her monthly joys. She would never begrudge me happiness for the sake of form.”
A carmine stain swept up from Caroline’s collarbones, suffusing her pale skin with a rosy twilight. She giggled like a young miss, an appellation that was over a half-decade behind her, and quickly accepted Soames’ request, ignoring the noise level that had spread around the room as her brother entreated Miss Bennet both the first and supper sets. Fitzwilliam spread his terpsichorean largess by begging the first set from Mrs. Bennet, earning him no small measure of Mr. Bennet’s gratitude. However, the good lady demurred coyly arguing that she was too old to keep up with a virile man such as he. Richard had the good sense to blush, thank the lady and immediately ask for two from Elizabeth: the first and the supper set from Lizzy as well as one each from the other Bennet ladies.