Welcome fellow readers! Today’s blog post is brought to by kindness and curiosity.
Thank you Don Jacobson for kindly reaching out and asking if I would like to read two of his books. I will never stop being amazing at the wonderful people that make up this little world of Janeites.
The curiosity comes into play with my need to know more. I find myself never quite content with reading a book and not being able to know more about the author, the time period, the inspiration behind the story… Combine that with a very outgoing personality, and you will find me never hesitating to reach out to authors to chat more about their books and what drives them to write. In that case, it led to a marvelous email correspondence with Don in which he obliged me when I asked him if he would like to be interviewed for the blog.
At first I was hesitant to read TLQ because I thought it might be a heavy read during the pandemic -I was wrong! Yes, it does get a bit sad at times but I think it really highlights what is important during times like these… hope. How do we as humans survive during any of life’s great tragedy’s be it war, sickness, natural disaster? We believe that there are brighter days ahead. The Longbourn Quarantine strips Pride and Prejudice of all is cannon and remolds it into a story of hope springs eternal. I really enjoyed this novella and think you will too!
I hope you all enjoy this interview and excerpt as much much as I have. But… the good news doesn’t stop there! Meryton Press so kindly offered to collaborate for a giveaway. (open from 2/12-2/19) All you need to do is comment on this post and you will be entered to win one of the three prizes. There will be three separate winners. The prizes will be one winner of an audiobook for The Longbourn Quarantine, one audiobook of In Plain Sight, and one promotional copy of the reader’s choice of either of these books. Thank you to Meryton Press for their generosity!
Without further delay, on to the interview questions and excerpt…
1. Were you a reader as a child? Insatiable reader. I read everything I could grab (see a witty reply to Q2). Moved “swiftly” from Tom Swift to the Hardy Boys. Then I started dragging historicals home. My dad pointed me at Science Fiction when I was about 11. Went deep on the classics like Asimov, Clark, and Heinlein…but also found the more modern writers like Harlan Ellison to offer stimulating speculations. Much of that has carried forward into my present-day writing. If you read the afterwards in the Bennet Wardrobe Series (seven books now with the eighth and final one being written), you will see my tip of the hat to Robert A. Heinlein’s concept of solipsism. According to Heinlein, the act of writing fiction creates the universe within which that fiction was reality. In my work, that applies to both fictional and actual figures. Thus, Sherlock Holmes and John Watson assist Henry Fitzwilliam as the young Earl of Matlock searches for Kitty Bennet after she had been taken by someone acting at the behest of Professor Moriarty. Likewise, Mr. Bennet turns to Winston Churchill for assistance in “The Avenger.”
2. Physical copy or ebook? Uuuuhhhh…you mean when you could project words on our 21 inch black and white TV? No the extension cord was too long. When my parents downsized in the late 1970s, they sent hundreds of paperbacks off to nearby nursing homes. I love a good hard copy…well designed with just the right typeface (selected by a designer and not Amazon)…printed on high-clay stock. It feels and smells so right. That said, I average about 250 books a year (my way of keeping myself from living too deeply in my own work) that are 100% e-book.
3. What inspired you to start writing Jane Austen fan fiction? First, since 2017, I have tried to differentiate my efforts from JAFF (Fan Fiction). I prefer either #InspiredByAusten or #Austenesque. I use Austen’s characters and general personality outlines (although many are caricatures…Moralizing Mary, Coughing Kitty, Loose Lydia, Fluttering Mrs. Bennet and so on) as a starting point for my work. I work to use these personages as a way to write my truth. That noted: my daughter gave me a Kindle back in 2010. Between downloading John LeCarre, I came across Joan Aiken’s completion of The Watsons and was entranced. Then I began working over Stephanie Barron’s books. By the time I pulled into 2015, something inside of me was ready to begin unspooling The Bennet Wardrobe stories…a place where Bennets could go to learn that which they needed to learn in a universe governed by C.S. Lewis’s “4 Loves”…well, actually, I discovered two more…the love that redeems and the love that forgives. That my daughter (the same one) had worked to write YA stories inspired me, someone who had earned his bread as a reporter, copywriter, script doctor, and history professor, to turn to fiction. Witing #Austenesque stories was natural.
4. Favorite Austen novel? Mansfield Park
5. Best time of day for reading? Afternoon and evenings.
6. When you aren’t writing, you are…? Obsessing about the story. My process is organic…and am a pantser. So (for instance) this morning at 12:54 AM, I wrote an email to myself with a character in the final Wardrobe book saying to Darcy, “I will go where I will be a free man. Oh, I may face goons like Maxwell even there, but nobody will argue that I am free because your King has ordered such.”
7. Favorite Austen character? And why? I like the strong square men like Colonel Brandon or Captain Wentworth…sort of how I would like to be. But, I have a soft spot for Miss Crawford…even though she is a schemer, I do understand why she is so…and I can see such potential.
8. If you could only keep one book, what would it be? The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo (1906). It looks at the aesthetics of life through the Zen approach to tea. Much of what he wrote shaped the approach of the American Modernists to their art. I have found inspiration therein.
9. Favorite genres to read? Austenesque, High-Quality spycraft, Historical Novels (with or without romance), Filmmaker Biographies
10. What inspired you to write The Longbourn Quarentine? The Longbourn Quarantine grew from my time in lockdown. This wrote quickly (March through mid-June). I began TLQ after I had sent “In Plain Sight” to the editor. I had planned on beginning the final book in the Bennet Wardrobe story arc (#8), but the shock of being forced into confinement gutted my creativity as it pertained to that project. For me, writing is therapy. If readers find the processing of my emotions useful, all the better. In any event, I began my approach with this notion that what was happening to us in 2020 was unlike anything all but the most elderly (+100 yrs and the Spanish Flu) could remember. However, epidemics were rife in the 19th Century and earlier (I will not go into how the Western Roman Empire began its decline when Marcus Aurelias was forced to incorporate barbarians into the army because its ranks had been decimated by Bubonic). Then I wondered how the nightmare of a plague could be explored through the Pride and Prejudice characters. Finally, I was interested to see how the characters would change under the unusual stress of being confined together for the requisite two weeks. I wanted to limit the scene changes that usually are used to split off characters into smaller groups. Thus, London and Netherfield appear only briefly to establish the underlying context. Longbourn (the parlor and the library) and its environs (Oakham Mount and the gamekeeper’s cabin) are the only settings in which we find our characters until the Epilogue explains what happens after the body of the novella.
TLQ is an #Austenesque Variation and looks at an alternative path that had Elizabeth’s trip to Hunsford prevented by an epidemic. The novella (38,000 words) is set in the Spring of 1812, before Darcy would have gone to Rosings…but after the events at Netherfield in the late autumn of 1811. Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Gardiners are off-stage in TLQ, remaining in London to ride out the epidemic.
The crowd in the parlor recoiled in surprise when an apparition in a long-beaked plague mask followed Mr. Bennet into the room. Above the goggled eyes, his head was topped with an archaic broad-brimmed hat. His form was hidden beneath a long, leather greatcoat that swept the floor, obscuring his boots. The garment did little to disguise his round figure and short stature. The guests had no idea who was concealed beneath the costume. Darcy and Bingley shared wide-eyed glances. Caroline’s lips were locked into an “O” that made her look akin to one of the fishmonger’s prize offerings. The family looked at each other, trying to guess which of their neighbors would choose to descend upon them while wearing such a ridiculous outfit.
Lydia’s raucous laughter preceded her exclamation. “Oh my Lord, is that you, Sir William? What possessed you to step out looking like you had escaped from the pages of one of Mrs. Radcliffe’s fever dreams.”
“Lydia, you forget yourself,” admonished Elizabeth. “If it is Sir William—and I have no idea who is lurking beneath those layers—you should offer him your respect befitting a man of his stature”—at this, all of her sisters groaned at her unintentional pun—“and even if it is not he, this gentleman is Papa’s guest and is worthy of your compliments.
“How have you concluded that our visitor is none other than Charlotte and Maria’s papa?”
Lydia, barely chastened, snickered back. “Because Maria and I were rifling through boxes and trunks in Lucas Lodge’s attics. We were looking for costumes for our theatricals. And, when we came upon this…this…” Her reply stumbled to a halt as another giggling paroxysm disabled her.
Darcy immediately admired the firm manner with which Elizabeth had taken her youngest sister in hand. That the correction had not been sustained redounded to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s discredit and not Miss Elizabeth’s.
A voice, muffled by the headgear, confirmed what the girl had sputtered. “Miss Lydia is correct. It is I, Sir William, your neighbor. I came across this ensemble when I was rummaging through my home’s storage areas trying to locate something to protect me from the miasmas that spread this fell disease as I execute my duties as a magistrate.
“Lucas Lodge is an historic home, like Longbourn, in our little town,” the former mayor expounded. “Its bones go back into the last years of the Tudors. I believe that one of the earlier owners had fled town during the Great Plague and had worn this as protection. After King James was chased off, there was no more plague—something I am sure my son, Mr. Collins, would argue is the result of our country having overthrown the Papist pretenders.
“While the children had gotten into its trunk, the clothing is none the worse for wear. A liberal application of oil put paid to any stiffness,” he concluded.
He gripped the coat’s skirts and performed a credible curtsey causing the room to dissolve into laughter.
Mr. Bennet’s voice rose above the chattering. “Peace. Please! Sir William has not ventured out from the safety of Lucas Lodge to engage in the japing high jinks which are far too common in this room. Attend him now. I think you will discover the virtue in seriously contemplating the official requirements with which he will task us all.”
Sir William clasped his gauntlets in front of his belly and began speaking, testing the composure of every person in the parlor. The words he uttered caused his beak to bob up and down. Mary, who had abandoned the pianoforte, scrunched her face, bit her cheeks, and squinted her eyes to avoid dissolving into gales of laughter. The same held for every Bennet, Bingley, and Darcy until Sir William’s message sank in.
“Meryton is in a terrible situation. The disease is burning through the shantytown by Watson’s Mill. The way those people are packed in together virtually guarantees its spread. More than seventy souls have already gone home to their maker. There are probably more, but we cannot convince anyone to enter the shacks where nobody has been seen for days.
“We have been trying to move the bodies up to a grave on the parade grounds. However, every time the wagons go through with the collectors calling, ‘Bring out your dead,’ the wains are filled before they pass halfway through the warren. And, anybody who touches those afflicted, either living or dead, comes down with the illness.”
Darcy interrupted. “Have you thought of using only those who have survived an earlier epidemic or have been vaccinated using Jenner’s method?”
Sir William pointed his beak at Darcy and, if his mask could have rendered an expression, looked dolefully at the master of Pemberley before replying. “Our community has been luckier than most, sir. We have escaped the big outbreaks since the seventies. There might be some folks who took sick and survived. However, I would have the same luck chivvying them to roll a barrow down by the mill as a Methody recruiting sergeant would have trying to get farm boys to take the King’s shilling without the help of pots of ale.
“We may be only four-and-twenty miles from town, but Meryton might as well be four-and-twenty leagues. Most folks have not heard of Mr. Jenner let alone be willing to consider sensible something as radical as giving a person one disease to prevent another.”
Caroline scoffed at Sir William’s assessment of the rural community’s reluctance to experiment with medical breakthroughs.
Mr. Bennet added, “While you may find amusement in considering our follies, Miss Bingley, Hertfordshire is slow to throw off the old ways, even those of dubious efficacy. Besides, bringing Jenner across the country would be no small expense. Most of us hereabouts, even the Cambridge-educated, have decided to place ourselves in the hands of the Good Lord. He, though, apparently has decided that forty years was long enough to spare us this plague.”
Bennet now turned to his neighbor and asked, “Well, Lucas, the town is in need. We have three gentlemen. What can we do to assist?”
Sir William had begun shaking his head before Mr. Bennet had finished speaking. His response cast a pall over the entire assembly.
“I am sorry, Bennet, but Longbourn will be forced to stay in deep reserve. Your guests have only this day arrived from town. According to Jones, who has read some proceedings from the Royal Society, we shall not know whether any of them are infected for about a fortnight.”
Mrs. Bennet squeaked, “Infected? But the Bingleys and Darcys have homes in the best areas and do not associate with the rabble who inhabit the rookeries near the Thames.”
Bingley spun out of Darcy’s grasp and rounded on the woman. For once, he did not spare her by being the lighthearted gadabout. “You know not of what you speak, Mrs. Bennet. My dear sister, Mrs. Hurst, is abed even as we speak because she is in dire straits from this monster! She and Hurst live at as good an address as any.”
“Louisa?” cried Miss Bingley. “Louisa has contracted smallpox? How could you leave our sister like this? We must go back at once. She will need me to care for her.”
Darcy restrained his agitated friend and calmly answered in his stead. “Returning to London is the one thing we cannot do, Miss Bingley. If you went to Mrs. Hurst, you would likely contract the ailment as well, and then you would do her no good. Who would tend you—Hurst? Bingley says your brother survived the scourge back in ’98. But he has his hands full with his wife.
“And, you would likely be writing Bingley’s death warrant if you dragged him into the pall. He, like you, has no immunity.”
Darcy’s pronouncement had a profound effect on Jane, who blanched at the words ‘death warrant.’ Her reaction was not lost on Elizabeth.
Don Jacobson’s writing has ranged from news and features to advertising, television, and radio. His work has been nominated for Emmys and other awards. He previously published five books, all non-fiction. In 2016, he turned to #Austenesque fiction and published the first volume of The Bennet Wardrobe Series—The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey.
Jacobson holds an advanced degree in History with a specialty in American Foreign Relations. Don teaches United States History, World History, and the History of Western Civilization at the college level.
He is a member of JASNA.
Jacobson is now a Meryton Press author. A new edition of Lessers and Betters will be republished by Meryton Press in April 2021. Lessers and Betters features Kitty Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam in paired novellas looking at the same event from two different perspectives.
He lives in Las Vegas, NV and Mercer Island, WA with his wife and co-author Pam Whitfield (Roadcookin’: A long-haul driver’s guide to healthy eating). Their rather assertive six-and-twenty-pound cat, Bear, allows them to feed him regularly. Don also enjoys cooking, dining out, fine wine, cigars, and well-aged scotch whiskey.
Jacobson’s fiction bibliography is available through Amazon in print, e-book (Kindle Unlimited), and on Audible.
The Keeper: Mary Bennet’s Extraordinary Journey (Wardrobe V1)
Henry Fitzwilliam’s War* (Wardrobe V2)
The Exile: Kitty Bennet and the Belle Époque (Wardrobe V3)
Lizzy Bennet Meets the Countess (Wardrobe V4)
The Exile: The Countess Visits Longbourn (Wardrobe V5)
Lessers and Betters
The Avenger: Thomas Bennet and a Father’s Lament (Wardrobe V6)
The Pilgrim: Lydia Bennet and a Soldier’s Portion (Wardrobe V7)
Cinders and Smoke in Falling for Mr. Thornton
In Plain Sight (Meryton Press)
The Longbourn Quarantine (Meryton Press)
A Thornhill Christmas* (Character Sketch from Wardrobe V8) (Meryton Press)
Amazon Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Don-Jacobson/e/B001IQZ7GC/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1
Goodreads author link:
Thank you to Don Jacobson and Meryton Press for helping make this blog post and giveaway possible.