Remember that old saying, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry?” And so it is with the launch of Dying to Write, the fourth book in the Patrick Shea mystery series, but one with a Jane Austen twist. From the back jacket:
In need of a break from his job at Scotland Yard, Detective Sergeant Patrick Shea of London’s Metropolitan Police is looking forward to some quiet time at a timeshare in rural Devon in England’s West Country. However, when he arrives at The Woodlands, Patrick finds himself in the midst of a Jane Austen conference. Despite their Regency Era dresses, bonnets, and parasols, a deep divide exists between the Jane Austen fan-fiction community, those who enjoy expanding on the author’s work, and the Janeites, those devotees who think anyone who tampers with the original novels is committing a sacrilege. When one of the conference speakers is found dead in her condo, Patrick is back on the job. Is is possible that the victim was actually killed because of a book?
I’ve had a few bumps in launching books before. Amazon put the wrong cover on Becoming Elizabeth Darcy so that my time-travel romance appeared to be a thriller about a Mideast terrorist plot. The last three chapters of the paperback edition of Mr. Darcy’s Bite, a story about a Regency Era werewolf, featured a historical novel from Ancient Greece. Talk about whiplash!
And things were pretty bumpy in getting Dying to Write ready for publication. My excellent editor, Jakki Leatherberry, was moving into a new home. Because I rely so heavily on Jakki’s editing talents, I sent her a manuscript that was probably not in the best shape in order to get it to her before she started packing the dishes. (Jakki, I wanted to challenge you. P.S. I changed the ending.) I sent the manuscript to a wonderful reviewer Down Under only to have to tell her, not once, but twice, that changes were on the way. Thank goodness Sarah has a sense of humor.
While all of this was going on, I was planning a visit with my grandkids in Virginia for the first time since September. (My ten-year-old granddaughter is going to spend the summer with Grandma and Pop. Hurrah!) But then the phone call came. “Grandma, can you come early to Virginia! I’ve been chosen to play on an All-star softball team, and I want you to come to the game?”
Now, tell me. What’s a grandmother to do? Obviously, something had to give, and as it turns out, it was the launch of Dying to Write. The book is now available as an e-book on Amazon and Nook (and it really is a quick and fun summer read), and when everything settles down, I’ll have a real launch with all the bells and whistles. In the meantime, here’s an abbreviated version of Chapter 2 from Dying to Write.
Patrick drove past the entrance to The Woodlands and had to drive a mile farther down the road before he found a place where he could safely turn around. Considering how isolated it was and the time of year, Patrick was surprised to find the car park filled with cars, several with car stickers that read, “I’d Rather Be Reading Austen” or “I ♥ Mr. Darcy.”
Next to the front doors of the inn was an Historical Society plaque, stating that the first inn on the site had been built in 1638 during the reign of Charles I.
“Are you here for the Jane Austen conference?” The question was posed by a perky and pretty young woman with spiky, platinum-blonde hair and tattoos of Chinese symbols on her forearms who was manning the inn’s front desk.
“No,” Patrick said, but a conference on a literary great would explain all the cars in the car park and the car stickers.
“The conference doesn’t officially start until tomorrow, but the people who run it have already checked in. By the way, my name is Camilla French,” she said, pointing to her nametag.
“And I’m Patrick Shea. I’m booked into timeshare Unit #3. The week belongs to Art Fredericks,” Patrick said as the girl scanned her computer. “He was supposed to make the reservation.”
“Ah yes. Here you are. Good to have you with us, Detective Sergeant Shea.”
“How did you know I was a policeman?”
“When DS Fredericks called to tell us you would be using his unit, he mentioned you were a detective sergeant at Scotland Yard.”
“Did he now? Well, when I see DS Fredericks, I’ll have to thank him for sharing that with the staff,” he said with a fake smile. “How about we keep that between ourselves?” he said, leaning over the counter and whispering. “People tend not to be themselves when they find out I’m a copper.”
The girl pretended to lock her lips and throw away the key, but then she leaned forward until she was inches from his face. “Is this your first time in Devon, Mr. Shea?” Patrick said that it was. “I grew up in Sidmouth. I know every nook and cranny in the county, and I have Saturday afternoon off.”
Patrick smiled. He was at least a dozen years older than this girl, but with a Jane Austen conference scheduled to start the next day, he might be the only male in the inn where a pretty girl could practice her charms.
“Why here? I mean, this place is in the middle of…” He was about to rephrase his question, when Camilla finished the sentence for him.
“…in the middle of nowhere is what you were going to say, and you’d be right. But to answer your question, here’s why.”
Camilla produced a printout meant for visiting “Janeites,” who were now drifting into the lobby from the dining room.
In 1801, before settling in her new home in Bath, Jane Austen visited Sidmouth with her parents and sister Cassandra as guests of a former pupil of Mr. Austen, the newly married Rev. Richard Buller, vicar at nearby Colyton. Jane wrote of Mr. Buller: “He will not oppress me by his felicity and his love for his wife…he simply calls her Anna without any Angelic embellishments.”
It was at Sidmouth that Jane supposedly met and fell in love with a young clergyman, whose manners, intelligence, and charm met with the approval of Cassandra Austen. Unfortunately, after receiving permission from her parents to continue the friendship, the unnamed suitor died suddenly.
Sidmouth is mentioned in Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion: “Mr. Elliot had been in Sidmouth before coming to Lyme.”
“That’s it?” Patrick asked with a laugh. “Jane Austen falls in love with an unnamed gentleman and mentions the village in one sentence in one of her books, and Colyton is on the map?”
“I know. Pathetic, isn’t it?” Camilla said, chuckling. “But believe it or not, it brings in the crowds. The only reason I’m working at the inn is because of this conference. This is the fourth year I’ve been asked to help out. And I love being here. I’ve read all of Austen’s novels.”
“So have I.”
Camilla squinted at him. “You’re having me on, aren’t you?”
“I am definitely having you on.”
Patrick looked around the inn. The main part of the building was ancient with timbered ceilings, a massive stone fireplace in the parlour, and stuccoed walls that looked like the paint had been put on with a putty knife. As proof of its age, the walls were bowing, and the ceilings were too low, but the ambience was perfect. It cried out for hot chocolate and red ski sweaters with reindeer on them.
At that point, the inn’s manager joined Camilla at the front desk and asked Patrick if there was anything wrong. She had been watching their prolonged exchange.
“On the contrary,” Patrick said, giving Camilla’s manager the benefit of a full smile, dimple and all. “Miss French was telling me about Colyton’s connection to Jane Austen as well as the church in the village that has a rare octagonal lantern tower.”
Patrick hoped he had got that last bit about the tower right. He had read about the Church of St. Andrew in one of the pamphlets Art Fredericks had given to him. Art had described it as a “must see.” He could only imagine.
“We love having informed guests,” Mrs. Worsnop said before returning to her previous station outside the dining room where she was bidding all and sundry a good evening.
“I hope I didn’t get you in trouble,” Patrick said as soon as the innkeeper was out of earshot.
“No problem. It’s just that she’s a bit on edge because of the conference.”
Patrick looked in the front parlour where the guests were gathering, many of them crowned with haloes of white hair. They seemed harmless enough.
“To look at them, you wouldn’t think it, but there were some fireworks last year because of those ladies, and it looks as if there might be this year as well as two of the speakers, Mrs. Duguid and Miss Ball, hate each other.”
According to Camilla, conference attendees fell into two groups: The Janeites consisted of those who revered the works of Jane Austen and stated unequivocally that her novels should not be tampered with. The Jane Austen fan-fiction group, or JAFF, was made up of those who were writing re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels: prequels, sequels, historical romances, and in at least one case, torrid romance.
“So if I get this right, the Janeites resent JAFF, and JAFF resents the Janeites.”
“The Janeites definitely resent JAFF, and those are the ladies gathered in the parlour. But JAFF actually admires the Janeites and wants their ‘approbation,’ or at least that’s what I overheard this afternoon during lunch. But it’s not going to happen. The diehard Janeites won’t have anything to do with those who read or write fan fiction.”
“And that explains the fireworks?”
Camilla nodded and indicated that, earlier, two women had got in to it in the dining room over a cup of coffee. “One old lady referred to JAFF as ‘polluting the shades of Pemberley.’ That’s a quote from Pride and Prejudice.”
“Hopefully, there were no fisticuffs.”
Camilla laughed. “Not yet. But the conference hasn’t even started. Who knows what’s going to happen.”
Patrick told Camilla that he would be checking in with her for some advice on which of Devon’s hot spots he should visit first.
“Like I said, I know every inch of the county between here and Plymouth, and I can show you the best bathing spots.”
“Bathing? In January? I don’t think so.”
“Who said we had to bathe.”
Dying to Write is currently available on Kindle and Nook. The paperback will be out in about a month. For more information on the Patrick Shea mystery series, please visit my Patrick Shea mystery website. So, please tell me, what do you think?