Twig Domes and Lovespoons – a guest post by Mary Ann Rivers

I got some exciting news this morning: It is January 21 today!  (I know, I know… it’s well past afternoon now, and how could the date be news?  Well, let me just tell you: I am in the depths of the worst allergy season I’ve ever had — currently battling my third case of sinusitis since October — and there is no such thing as time here in the pit of congestion.  I understand that time is a reality for the rest of the world, but sickness creates its own, alternate reality.)

Anyway… why is January 21 an exciting day?  It’s the release day of Live by Mary Ann Rivers, of course!  (Cue the fireworks.)  To celebrate this release, Mary Ann is providing an extended excerpt of the book (the first three chapters) on Scribd.

LIVE by Mary Ann Rivers – Excerpt by Random House Publishing Group

As if that were not exciting enough, subscribers to Mary Ann’s newsletter will also get a link to an exclusive epilogue to The Story Guy, Mary Ann’s phenomenal novella.  All you have to do is sign up for the newsletter, and Mary Ann will send you the link later on this week.  (In other words, sign up pronto. You can do so on Mary Ann’s website.)

And now I’m turning things over to Mary Ann and retreating back to the pit of congestion.

Wanderlust is is a tricky affliction.

First, it is a disease of agony. It agonizes, it seeps in everywhere and not only makes you ache, it makes you restless, often physically restless, so that you’re driving to the grocery store and looking at every exit along the way wondering how far each one might take you.

You pick up books, you put them down. You rearrange the furniture, hoping it tricks the yearning into satisfaction. I was recently telling a friend, when I was in the worst of it several years ago, I used to watch back to back LONELY PLANETS and then go stare at the ceiling on my bed, overcome with the desire to just see something, do something, be a part of something. I remember there was an episode where the host came down with Malaria, and I found myself thinking — oh, that’s amazing. I’ve never had malaria

LIVE is a book about home, but it is also a book about about Destiny — the heroine, and the idea. Her hero, Hefin, is Welsh and has traveled the world but has been held up, for years, in Ohio. Destiny has never been anywhere but her hometown, her own neighborhood. She’s surrounded by people and landmarks she’s known since she was born. 

Hefin plans, finally, on going home. To Wales, which is only his first stop before he will set off in the world again. 

Destiny believes she was always meant to stay and be a part of a landscape as familiar as her own palm. 

Except . . . 

They meet each other.

It’s one of those stories where, if it were an illustration, the picture would show two red hearts on a map, far away from each other, and a lot of uncertainty if there will ever be little dots connecting them, over the wide ocean.

Wanderlust permeates, and I think the restlessness often has to find an outlet. I think that often the outlet is creative output, making something, trying to make some mark, trying to work through all of these ideas about what you see and what you yearn for. 
In LIVE, Des is a fan of the environmental artist Andy Goldsworthy, and the documentary about his work, Rivers and Tides. Goldsworthy uses what’s at hand, in his own environment, to make sculptures and art. He alters what is familiar and makes it unfamiliar, and, yet, the environment always reclaims his domes of twigs and paintings of leaves — returning the landscape to its familiar view. 

She tells Hefin about it here: 

“I don’t do any kind of art. I guess you could kind of count design, but that I only do a little of, and what I do is very functional. But I have a little project, lately.”


“Yeah. Do you know Andy Goldsworthy?”

“The natural materials artist?”

“Yes! Wow. No one knows who he is.”

“I’m a wood engineer, remember?”

“Right. Actually, you’re a sunflower engineer. But we’re quibbling. Anyway, I watched his documentary in college, Rivers and Tides and then, for months, I was always trying to make little bits of art when I was at the park—a stack of pebbles, a leaf chain, whatever.”

“Of course. I did similar when I saw it.”

“You know the big, like, hives he makes? The domes? Sometimes from rocks, sometimes from twigs?”

“The giant egg-like structures?”

“Yes! That’s what I’m doing.”

“You’re making a giant egg?”

“Actually, a giant dome. Out of sticks. My landlord, Betty, she used to live in my house with her husband, years ago, and he planted a tulip tree for her when they were young. It’s huge now. But I think it’s sick, or dying, and probably should be taken down, but Betty is sentimental about it. So it stays, but it’s dropping all of these twigs all the time. There are lots of twigs, and sometimes I just need to do something sort of repetitive and soothing to take my mind off things. So I started building one.”


“Yes, I think so.” She was quiet. 

Destiny, here, is still anchored by her neighborhood, her family, but wanderlust has taken her. She’s altering her landscape, altering twigs from a tree that represent a past love, even. Before she’s even read to admit what she wants, her creative output is tell the world what it is she wants.

Likewise, Hefin, who’s an engineer by trade and loved it, but could never find the work that was his sub-specialty in the U.S., returns to woodcarving, the art he learned in Wales, from his father, and is traditional. What he makes is where his mind has already traveled.

Our actions and creativity intersect, often, with what it is we haven’t quite worked out in other ways. It’s part of the affliction agony — a kind of tortured sweetness. 

Perfect for a love story. 

Thank you, Mary Ann, for joining me on the blog today.  Mary Ann has graciously offered to host a giveaway of e-ARC copies of Live to three commenters chosen at random.  To participate in the giveaway (open internationally, I believe), please leave a comment about life, wanderlust, the urge to create, or the awesomeness of the name Hefin (or anything that strikes your fancy, honestly).  I’ll choose three people (with the help of at some point after 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, January 26.

In case you’re curious about Andy Goldsworthy.

Jane Austen January – Emma – some early thoughts

I decided to do something a little different this year and start out my annual Jane Austen re-read with Emma, which is never in the running for my favorite Austen novel and sometimes finds itself in the position of least favored.  It’s been several years since I last read it, and I don’t think I have ever done it justice, as a reader.

Let me see if I can explain.  I read Pride and Prejudice first, and then I spent so much time watching the 1995 BBC adaptation that it supplanted the original; when I read the book, I was most often struck by its deviation from the adaptation.  Sometimes I took the trouble to read the book carefully and critically, to consider new (to me) ideas and challenge my assumptions about the book.  Sometimes I read it for the comfort of a familiar and amusing story.  But no matter what I sought from the reading of it, I have always approached P&P with respect.  I know it’s brilliant, and I know that after 20 or so readings (and God knows how many viewings of the various adaptations) that I have just scratched the surface of all the truth and wisdom Austen crammed into it.

Emma, on the other hand, I have never — ’till now — bothered to read carefully and critically, nor have I ever found it particularly comfortable (or comforting).  When I read it, I did because I thought I should, not because I particularly wanted to or anticipated any benefit from it.  I was first introduced to its story through the movie adaptation Clueless, and I very incorrectly assumed that the original was a bit frivolous.  Emma is such a difficult character to like, and there are so many troubling aspects to the story (Mr. Knightley’s being vaguely creepy, perhaps, or Emma’s and Harriet’s friendship being so unequal — and frankly awful — or the entire Jane Fairfax/Frank Churchill comedy of errors story seeming like such an interruption to the main story line), that I honestly could not be bothered to take it seriously.  Emma is a fun, light, and entertaining comedy of manners and nothing more, I thought.

I was wrong.

Now about halfway through the book, I am not finding anything particularly fun and light about it.  In fact, the whole thing seems overshadowed by impending doom.  The action opens with loss — the loss of Miss Taylor — and with Emma seeing her future stretching out before her, bleak and lonely.  Emma, in desperation, seeks an unequal friendship with young, naive Harriet Smith, whom Emma pretty much captures and isolates like a pet, removing her from the company of good people among whom Harriet could have a happy and prosperous life and setting her on a path that cannot end well.

Later in the story, when Mrs. Bates, Miss Bates and Jane Fairfax are introduced, the story grows darker still.  Miss Bates is a natural foil for Emma, except that Miss Bates is poor where Emma is rich, and Miss Bates loves and approves of everybody (while viewing herself in a somewhat self-deprecating sort of way) where Emma is contemptuous and critical of everyone, including herself, at times (moreover, most of Emma’s criticisms of others apply directly to her, so I read her criticism of the neighborhood as an extension of her dislike of herself.).  Take away Emma’s wealth and shift her twenty years into the future and she’s actually in a much worse position than Miss Bates, who is at least harmless and well liked…

And then there’s Jane Fairfax, whom Emma avoids and abuses simply because Jane, out of everybody in the neighborhood, best demonstrates the sort of young woman Emma knows she ought to be but isn’t.  When Jane Fairfax is around, Emma cannot escape from her self-disgust (though she does try to take Jane Fairfax down a peg or two by inventing the notion that Jane, a much prettier woman than Miss Campbell, the girl with whom she was brought up, either supplanted Miss Campbell in the affections of her husband or nursed an unrequited affection for him; Emma then shares this invented notion with Frank Churchill, which action is one of the most ridiculous and dangerous things Emma does in the entire book.).  Moreover, Emma fears not only that Jane Fairfax acknowledges Emma’s deficiencies of character and application but also that other worthy people (Mr. Knightley and Miss Taylor/Mrs. Weston) do as well.  Honestly, none of that is fun and light.

Jane Austen does not have to be sparkling and enjoyable in order to be interesting, however, and I am finding in this reading of Emma that it might be the most interesting (read: thought-provoking) of all of Austen’s novels.  Here is a story about a woman who is allowed to be perfectly awful, whose sterling qualities are difficult to find amid all the jealousies and pettiness of her youth and pride.  But I honestly don’t believe that Emma is in any way more awful than I was at 20.  Emma isn’t nice, kind, or pleasant; she doesn’t inspire pity (she is, after all, “handsome, clever, and rich.”); and she doesn’t actually suffer all that much on her road to love.  Given all of this, it seems typical for readers to dislike Emma just as much as she dislikes herself; however, I find myself, on this read-through, at least, giving Emma (and, through her, myself) the permission to be unpleasant.  We’ll see how that continues as I progress to the novel’s second half.

Let’s discuss!  From the conversations I’ve had with some of you on Twitter, I don’t think I’m alone in my habitual approach to Emma.  What do you think Austen was about with this book?

(I’m planning another post on some of the perviness to be found in Emma, by the way.)

An original scene by Kate McKinley, author of A Countess by Chance

Between-the-Sheets-BlogTourToday I’m pleased to host an original scene by Kate McKinley, author of Duchess in the Dark and A Countess by Chance.  Kate was given four requirements; her scene had to involve at least three characters (at some point), lace, a feather, and an ice cube. I believe the other authors on the book tour will also be posting original scenes featuring these four elements, so keep an eye out if you’re a fan of C. C. Gibbs, Jodi Ellen Malpas, or Cecilia Tan.

Without further ado, here’s Kate’s scene.

Miss Olivia Grayson watched from across the ballroom as Lord Thomas Black, Viscount of Torrington meandered through the crowd, looking just as handsome and rakish as he was rumored to be. A shame she wasn’t in the market for a husband. “Is he not the model of perfection?” Elena Stacey, her friend and confidant, said from beside her. “It is rumored that he’s in Town for the very particular purpose of finding a wife.”

“Is that so?” Olivia said.

“They say he wishes to set up his nursery soon.” Elena smiled, unfurling her lace fan. “And I dare say there are a hundred ladies who’d beg for the privilege of being Lady Torrington.”

“Well, then let them beg.” Olivia turned her attention away from Torrington. “Lord knows I would never go to such lengths for a husband.”

Elena smirked. “I daresay your fortune will prevent you from ever having to beg, my dear. The rest of us, however, must be more practical.”

“Good evening, ladies.”

The rich, male baritone slithered up Olivia’s spine. She turned to see Torrington approach, his luscious mouth drawn up into a charming smile. He had the face of a fallen angel—fair and handsome, with a straight nose, high cheekbones and something wicked gleaming in those brilliant blue eyes that glittered like ice.

“Miss Stacey. Miss Grayson.” He bowed, his eyes lingering on Olivia. “You both look lovely this evening. Miss Grayson, if you are not otherwise engaged, may I be so bold as to claim the next dance?”

Her gaze darted to Elena, who’d all but wilted at Torrington’s words. Eyes downcast, hands clasped firmly in front of her, it was clear Elena had hoped to be the recipient of Torrington’s offer.

“I couldn’t possibly leave Miss Stacey—“

“Please don’t refuse on my account.” Elena flashed Olivia a weak smile. “I’ll be quite all right. Go, enjoy yourself.”

Torrington smiled. “I shall return her to you directly. And I would be honored, Miss Stacey, if you will permit me the next waltz.”

Elena’s face brightened, and she curtsied gracefully, her white and gold trimmed gown glittering in the candlelight. “Thank you. I am not engaged. It would be my pleasure, my lord.”

Torrington bowed, then took Olivia’s hand and led her through to the dance floor, where the beginning cords of Dusky Night drifted through the large hall. When the dance was over, Torrington led her out onto the balcony. He turned to her and smiled—that devastating smile rendered every woman in London speechless.

“Miss Grayson,” he said, cadging her against the wall, both hands braced on either side of her head. “I’ve had a deplorable evening, and I place the blame squarely on your shoulders. How will you make amends?”

Olivia swallowed. His scent was an intoxicating mixture of cigar smoke and pure male, and it never failed to arouse her. Heat spread through her limbs and pooled in her stomach. “I can’t imagine what you mean.”

“You know precisely what I mean.” He leaned in close. He was going to kiss her, she could feel it, his warm breath mingling with hers, the heat of his body curling around her like a ribbon of sunshine. “You’ve been flirting with every gentleman in attendance.”

“And why shouldn’t I? I have it on good authority that you are in Town searching for a bride.”

He pulled back a little, and plucked the feather from her hair, then traced the tip of it across her jaw, and down her neck until he reached the tight nipple that strained against her silk bodice.

“You are very well informed, Miss Grayson. That is my precise purpose for venturing into town.”

She squirmed under that sharp, emerald gaze. He brushed his thumb over her nipple through her gown, sending little sparks of pleasure shooting through her limbs.  e was wicked, and depraved, and she wanted him desperately. He lowered his head and touched his lips to hers. It’d been so long, and she’d missed the taste of him. Smoke, and brandy and man all entwined to create something quite intoxicating. This was no gentle seduction. He swept his tongue into her mouth, as his hands slid blithely downward, cupping her backside. She pulled away and placed a hand on his chest. “Thomas, stop. Someone will catch us.”

He leaned back in and kissed a trail up her neck, along her jaw. “And what if they do? You’d be forced to accept my proposal.”

Olivia closed her eyes briefly. “I can’t, Thomas.”

“Tell me why.”

If she told him the truth, he would despise her. He would think her the worst sort of harlot. It’d be a miracle if he ever spoke to her again. She shook her head, tears threatening. “I can’t,” she repeated, then kissed him briefly, and fled back into the house.

A COUNTESS BY CHANCE by Kate McKinley (January 7, 2014; Forever E-Novella; $0.99). Buy Links: AmazonB&NBookishiTunes.
A gambler’s daughter, Sophia Weatherby knows her way around a deck of cards. So when her family estate becomes threatened, she has no choice but to use her skills at the gaming tables to save herself from ruin. A lavish house party affords her the perfect opportunity-until the newly minted Earl of Huntington arrives. Adam Greyson has never forgotten the day Sophia rejected his proposal. Now to even the score, he challenges her to a shocking wager-his two thousand pounds against the one valuable commodity she has left: her virtue.
KATE MCKINLEY writes Regency and Fantasy Romance. When she’s not staring at her screen, dreaming up delicious heroes, she’s a wife, mother and part-time assistant.  Check out her Website or find her on Facebook, Twitter, or Goodreads.

Jane Austen January – a late start

It’s January!  That means lots of things, actually (for instance that it’s outrageously cold pretty much everywhere in the country except where I live; or that I’m still slightly hung over from last Wednesday; or that I’m struggling to write the correct date on things; or that it’s eerily quiet where I work because most folks don’t return from break for a few more weeks, so I’ve been spending an astonishing amount of time watching videos on YouTube instead of working…), but chiefly that it’s time for me to get my Austen on for my 16th annual Jane Austen January.

“16th Annual” makes it sound super official, but this is really only the second year that I’ve invited other folk to participate with me… sooo….. And I haven’t been bothered to do any of the things you’re supposed to do if you want folk on the Internet to do a thing.  I don’t have a cool graphic.  I mean, I could make one, but it wouldn’t be cool.  It would be this:

Jane Austen January Bitches

I don’t even have a linky, because I don’t know how to insert one in a post, and — frankly — I can’t be bothered.  Anyway, all are welcome to participate to whatever extent, but I totally understand if I end up alone at this party.

This year, I plan to read Sense and Sensibility, Emma and Persuasion.  I’ll probably end up listening to all three books (I’m partial to the recordings narrated by Flo Gibson).

So, if you’re interested in participating, awesome!  Just read some Jane Austen, and let’s talk about it in the comments, on your blog (if you have one), or on Twitter.  What Austen will you be reading this January?