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Online "Book Brawl" pits Twainites against Janeites

Voting concluded yesterday. Who will win? Twain or Austen?During March and April, a website offering free book recommendations called The Fussy Librarian asked subscribers to fill out brackets for “Book Brawl” — a book lover’s counterpart to March Madness.

The title game  has come down to Jane Austen vs. Mark Twain.

Both authors have generated heaven-knows-how-many derivative works and/or books written in homage, including a Mark Twain inspired novel Becky, written by my former fiction teacher in the Wilkes Creative Writing program Lenore Hart.  

Even the highly imaginative Mr. Twain could not have in his wildest dreams conceived of the vast number of Pride and Prejudice variations that would be published every year—just check out this collection on for starters.

Three derivative works of Twain and Austen in my personal collectionNot readily listed in that collection is a hilarious send-up called Pride and Promiscuity: The Lost Sex Scenes of Jane Austen written by Arielle Eckstut and Dennis Ashton and another new novel called The Bad Miss Bennet which I recently profiled on my blog.

Tough vote—choosing between Mark Twain and Jane Austen. Many contemporary novels have a style and swagger that remind me Twain's writings. So Brave, Young, and Handsome by Leif Enger and The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt might be two of my favorites.

Jane gets my vote!Even though "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" is one of my favorite short stories, I voted for Jane Austen. And here's why. 

Sidebar: No, not just because Colin Firth was a total hottie as Mr. Darcy.

Though I have published nothing anyone would consider a derivative work, I have been profoundly influenced by the Austen works I’ve read.

For example, the romance waiting to happen in Pride and Prejudice between Elizabeth and Darcy hangs in the air like too sweet fruit aching to be devoured, rousing every romantic notion, pore, and cell in my body like five-alarm fire sirens.

Hottie, patottie!It’s the expectation of romance that I find so utterly enlivening and appealing. Since societal mores have changed, I do occasionally have couples rolling between the sheets in my books. Who Killed ‘Tom Jones’? moves along to a steamy love scene but not before I’ve raised the reader’s hairs on her arms (I hope) in expectation of an intimate encounter.

Besides simmering romance, I love Austen’s colorful characters. If there are other more laughable characters than Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet, and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Pride and Prejudice) in a single novel, please feel free to recommend those titles because I would love to read them.

If you don't know Lady Catherine De Bourgh, she is an insufferable rich old snob, daughter of an earl, who has a laughably high opinion of herself. I love this exchange at Rosings, Lady Catherine's home, that is incited by Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Bennet engaged in private conversation, which annoys Lady Catherine:

I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. -- Lady Catherine de Bourgh

In all three of my published novels, I must confess that while writing the funniest characters in them, the most colorful of them, I was thinking about the mark that Jane Austen’s comic characters have made on her readers and aspired to do the same.

Whether authors pen strictly derivative works or not (like my colleague Jon Pinnock did with Mrs. Darcy versus the Aliens), we are all profoundly influenced by what we have read and these works will continue to inform our writing ever hereafter. I thank the firmament and all the stars twinkling in it for having read Austen. For good or for ill, I will forever be inspired by her genius.

In case you were wondering, don’t ever expect to see Mrs. Darcy Kills Tom Jones on the shelves anytime soon. At least not written by Gale Martin. Now that mashup would be going a tad too far.

And what about you, dear readers? Whom would you choose?


Who Killed 'Tom Jones' is goin' on tour!

So, Who Killed ''Tom Jones'? is going on a virtual tour--a blog tour--through April 15!

Stop by one of these wonderful book blogs, enter the drawing, and you could win a $25 Amazon gift card or one of 30 ebooks of Who Killed 'Tom Jones'? Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.

Trez cool, huh?

March 31, 2014
Closed the Cover - Tour Kick-Off

April 1, 2014
What is That Book About - Guest Post

April 2, 2014
Closed the Cover - Book Review
Book Geek Speaks - Book Excerpt

April 3, 2014
My Nook, Books & More - Book Playlist

April 4, 2014
What is That Book About - Book Excerpt

April 6, 2014
Traveling with T - Book Promo

April 8, 2014
 A Place on the Bookshelf -- Book Promo
Closed the Cover - Author Interview

April 9, 2014
Library Educated - Book Excerpt

April 11, 2014
M's Bookshelf - Guest Post

April 13, 2014
Tome Tender - Book Review and Guest Post

April 15, 2014
Nerd Alert Book Love - Book Promo
One More Chapter - Book Review




Celebrate the little things

Bluebirds and thank you's mean more than you think.

It is a gray, chilly morning in Southcentral Pennsylvania. Colder and damper than anyone expects for the second week of spring, with April just around the bend.

But none of that really matters today.

You see, I saw a pair of bluebirds in the planter on the back deck. A flash of cerulean blue caught my eye, a shade rarely seen in my backyard. And there they were, nestled by the coco-shred liner of a hanging basket, pecking at seeds that the wind carried there from a nearby feeder. After they flew away, I jumped up and scattered more seed, hoping to lure them back.

I recently learned that bluebirds pair off during mating season and remain monogamous while their mate is living. Every time I see a pair of bluebirds, I think of them as a happily married couple, with 2.4 children (and a minivan).

Another lovely little joy that occurred this week is that a Philadelphia arts company thanked me for the four-star review I'd given them on

Oh, and one reviewer of WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'?, someone I've never met, wrote that one of my scenes made her heart "skip a beat."

(Truth be told, it made my own heart skip a beat while I wrote and edited it. I still shudder, even after mulling it over for probably the thousandth time. You embody each character as you write scenes and deeply experience everything they feel, or at least I do.)

The scene that made one reader's heart skip a beat featured Marc Levy, a local police detective with an old-fashioned sensibility.For most of us, life doesn't dole out huge joys and accolades to savor day to day. Or a potential cause for celebration pops up, something you may have anticipated for decades, and you find yourself off the guest list for reasons that you can't fathom.

That's why it is important to celebrate little things.

I kicked up my heels last evening when I found a website listing the best movies currently streaming on Netflix. If like my husband Bill and I, you have already binge-watched the second season of House of Cards, finding this site is like finding a mother lode of Saturday night entertainment.  

Now that I have logged more years on the planet than I have ahead of me, I try to take stock in the simple thank you, the thoughtful book review, or the kind email from a friend who says he just had to buy a copy of your latest book. (Thanks, Jim!)

Or an early morning visit from a little pair of bluebirds.

If the big things in life tend to disappoint you, why not turn to all the less consequential goings-on instead? 

Take the measure of the small stuff, and string all those little joys together to create your own little corner of contentment.


Meet the talented author of 'Zips Goes Wandering'

Some of my favorite childhood adventures began with animals in books: The Saggy Baggy Elephant, Curious George, Black Beauty, Old Yeller.

That's why I'm so pleased to let you know about a delightful new children's book by UK author and illustrator Chris Marsh called Zips Goes Wandering, published by Booktrope, available in print and ebook editions.

Zips Goes Wandering generates conversations between parents and kids about what to do when a child gets lost in a public place. But it’s not a didactic book—the story’s told from the perspective of a bright and curious child. The lively pictures are fun for kids who like animals. Try reading the rhyming lines with an English accent since the author and illustrator is from London.

Author Chris MarshWelcome to Scrivengale, Chris. Tell me about yourself.
I currently live in London, England and have done so for the last 7 years which is very different from where I grew up in the heart of the English countryside. Growing up in a rural village surrounded by farms, fields and forests gave me the opportunities to go on an endless number of adventures with my friends which allowed for my creative side to flourish. I'm a keen painter and pianist and love spending my spare time either drawing, writing or playing or listening to music. I have five nieces and nephews who also keep me very busy so I often rely on my creative streak to find exciting things for them to do and I hope that this will rub off on them.

Give a brief description of your book, Zips Goes Wandering.

Zips is about a young zebra who loves an adventure but doesn't realise the dangers involved with wandering off without telling his mum. After she warns him not to wander off, he does just that and soon finds himself in a spot of bother with a hungry lion and crocodile. Fortunately, he manages to get himself out of trouble but only finds himself lost and miles from home. By asking his various friends for help he darts backwards and forwards across the savannah and before nightfall, he finds his family.

Why did you write Zips Goes Wandering?
My five very active nieces and nephews are pretty fearless when it comes to going on adventures, often without telling a grown up where they're off to. Knowing their love for stories and indifference to obeying rules I decided to create a story that they would pay attention to, enjoy and therefore remember. Zips Goes Wandering engaged them to ask questions about getting lost and since first hearing the story they haven't gone wandering off, unless it's to the kitchen to raid the sweet and cake cupboard.

Zips Goes Wandering has lots of animal characters. Which ones are your favorites?
I've always thought that zebras are pretty cool and interesting animals which is why I chose a zebra for the main character. But I also really like Alex Antelope, not only because I like his massive antlers but also because he's named after one of my nephews.

Is this book part of a series?
Zips Goes Wandering aims at teaching children not to wander off and to spark up a conversation between children and their parents or guardians. It had such a great impact on my nieces and nephews that I thought about covering a variety of issues that children will come across through life. The next book covers an issue that is a worry for all parents - bullying - but I wanted to make it slightly different to other bullying stories and that's to focus the book from the bully's point of view. So keep an eye out for that one!
  Your illustrations in Zips Goes Wandering are so expressive. Can you tell us about your illustration methods?I actually first created the characters when I was about 13 in a Home Economics class at school - we were making aprons and I decorated mine with Zips and his friends (although they didn't have names back then). When I first started writing the story of Zips onto paper I remembered the apron, dug it out and thought, here's a style of drawing I've never seen before and that would be recognisable. I really think that the characters are quite cute which will hopefully appeal to adults as well.

The page design of Zips Goes Wandering is vibrant. Can you tell us about why you chose to place the text inside the clouds?
The words on the page are separated from the actual pictures themselves so I wanted to connect the two somehow. As the words seemed to float about on the page I thought, why not have them float about in a cloud above the savannah?

Why did you choose to set this book in the African savannah?
I've always had a fascination with African savannah animals. I've never been to Africa but I've been to so many zoos and even from a little boy I remember being mesmerized by the giraffes, elephants, rhinos, zebras and lions more than the other animals. One day I'll get to Africa so I can see a real life Zips in the wild.

What kinds of children’s books have inspired you?

I'm so pleased that my nieces and nephews are great lovers of books because it gives me an excuse to read picture books to them. My favourite has to be Julia Donaldson. Her books are so much fun and the stories and rhyming draw the reader into the story every time.

What artists have inspired you?
Axel Scheffler is brilliant. He's so talented and has worked with Julia Donaldson on a number of books including The Highway Rat and The Gruffalo. I think I enjoy the pictures more than my nieces and nephews! As a child I was a huge fan of the Roald Dahl books and a large part of that was because of the illustrations drawn by Quentin Blake. They're quite simple but have a real impact on the reader because they're so unique, fun and match the character of the story they're in perfectly. 


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Who Killed 'Tom Jones'? book trailer premiere!

So, what's this new novel WHO KILLED 'TOM JONES'? all about? How about a little book trailer to get you in the mood for mystery and romance? (How can you have one without the other? I always say.)


Three leading men. One leading lady. One murderer. One destiny.