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A quick word from Bobbi Dumas, your host.
Hi everyone! Welcome to Read-A-Romance Month. You can find out more about this fun, month long event here. And check out all the great authors taking part this year on the calendar, here.
The theme this year is The Romance Of Reading, The Magic Of Books and we have an awesome assortment of writers – both romance and mainstream fiction authors – sharing about books, reading, romance & magic. I hope you’ll visit everyday.
(Also, be sure to check in to The Romance Of Reading FB page, where one of the RARM authors will be hosting the page each day in August.)
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Lisa Berne – Love and the Magic of Change
Here it is: one of the most iconic scenes in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. We’re at the little assembly-dance in Meryton.
In comes Fitzwilliam Darcy, wealthy, highborn, good-looking, single.
He’s also intelligent, reserved, and — as later we’ll learn by his own opaque admission — rather shy. (I wonder how his lively friend Charles Bingley persuaded him to attend this poky provincial gathering.) Now in his late twenties, Mr. Darcy is settled into his life’s trajectory, in which he fulfills the expectations — apparently without demur — laid upon him by custom and society.
At some point he must marry and see to the continuance of his line; it’s his duty, and nobody doubts but that he’ll select a bride from among his own lofty circle.
Here, at the assembly, Darcy refuses to dance. In a lesser man this would be considered uncouth. His rationale to Bingley is that he’s impressed by none of the young women, including Miss Elizabeth Bennet who is merely “tolerable.” He stands aloof, firm in his conviction of who he is and how he behaves in any given situation, comfortably ensconced within his trajectory.
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Do people change? Can we change?
So many of us would say no.
A person married and divorced multiple times, convinced she’s made the same mistake over and over again.
A dieter who repeatedly has tried and failed to lose the weight he devoutly wishes gone.
A lifetime of patterns — I like this and not that, I can do this but not that, I believe this but reject that — seemingly holding one in an inexorable grip, making one’s struggles to break free feel all too hopeless.
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In Colleen McCollough’s raw, powerful first novel, Tim, we’re confronted with what some might consider an unlikely heroine: Mary Horton, brisk, fiercely independent, by her own estimation quite plain, a successful working woman in her mid-forties who has “never had or wanted a boyfriend.” But she’s “very well satisfied with herself and her life,” and relishes the solitary intellectual pleasures of books and music.
Into this well-regulated life comes Tim Melville, half her age, nowhere near her equal in intellect, as handsome as a Greek god. He’s also curious, loving, sensitive, without social defenses and the butt of cruel pranks by his coworkers on a construction crew.
To Mary’s shock, Tim likes her. He displays his affections openly. As their friendship deepens, his affection turns to love, and then to something else: a burgeoning sexual longing. Although she too is drawn to Tim, everything in Mary’s cool, guarded, brilliant mind rejects the premise of a different kind of relationship.
She spurns it despite being keenly aware of Tim’s intense vulnerability, his need for her, and her own feelings. “It’s criminal,” she declares, leaving herself no room for doubt.
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Can people change?
Neuroscientists tell us that the brain is a plastic entity, not just when we’re young, but for our whole lives. Through external events, deliberate intervention, and/or dedicated personal effort, neurotransmitters can be encouraged or subdued; chemical pathways can shift; behavior can be modified.
Or maybe you don’t require a glimpse into the secretive processes of the brain. You don’t need it to sustain a belief in change.
Those of us who come to this conviction arrive by many paths.
But we all agree that a person can change — or be changed — under certain circumstances.
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Behold Edward Rochester in Charlotte Brontë’s torrid, twisty Jane Eyre.
Brontë famously criticized what she perceived as a kind of sterility in the work of her predecessor Jane Austen, and Mr. Rochester is a splendid and entirely Gothic response to that. He’s mysterious, he’s moody and erratic, occasionally brutish and downright odd, radiating sexual magnetism and capable of immense personal charm.
He feels himself to be a trapped man. Secretly bound to a violent, mentally ill wife, in his desperation he sinks into a torpid moral depravity in which it’s acceptable to commit bigamy. Only the last-minute intervention of a witness, bringing the wedding ceremony to a halt, checks Rochester’s descent.
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We would rather be ruined than changed / We would rather die in our dread / Than climb the cross of the moment / And let our illusions die.
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When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills. —Chinese proverb
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“What do I not owe you!” exclaims Fitzwilliam Darcy to his Elizabeth, misunderstandings resolved and mutual love revealed at last. “You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled.”
Such frankness, such openness and warmth — inconceivable when first we gazed upon Mr. Darcy, all stiff and haughty, at the Meryton assembly.
It’s a kind of magic, isn’t it? He’s changed.
In duress, Mary Horton seeks out a renowned teacher who works with disabled children. Perceptive, blunt, he hears her out. Then he tells her she ought to marry Tim, and despite her angry, aghast response, he says calmly: “Do you want to know why?”
“Oh, by all means!” retorts Mary.
“Because you can’t live without each other, that’s why! Good lord, woman, it sticks out a mile how besotted you are for him, and he for you!” He goes on, illuminating for her the exquisite potential in Tim’s love for her and hers for him. And at last Mary is jolted out of her fixed worldview.
She’s changed. Magic.
After the ruinous scene at the altar and Jane Eyre flees, Edward Rochester is devastated. But not too devastated to try and save the life of the wife he loathes. That he fails is not his fault. He is, at last, behaving unambiguously like a hero. When Jane returns to him, he’s blinded, scarred — but able, now, without pretense, without feints and withdrawals, to freely love.
He’s changed. Magic.
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I write historical romance. That is, I write love stories. I read them also, and voraciously. I read other genres, too — I like science fiction and history and biography, for example, and I’m also a longtime Shakespeare fan. One of the literary experiences I most relish is immersing myself in one of his soul-gutting tragedies.
Consider King Lear. He changes, but too late. The destruction he’s unleashed is a tsunami swamping everything around him. And still — awful as it is — we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because of Shakespeare’s genius, of course, in creating indelible characters and the flow of words, magical, issuing from their lips; also, perhaps, because in the stern beauty of his tragedies we recognize the congruence with real life which is, in fact, all too often filled with disappointment, sorrow, and suffering.
Romance novels — love stories — can, and do, portray their share of such dark matter. But within them, like a bright skein woven throughout a dappled fabric, is an optimistic and unshakable faith in change. That it’s not only possible, but achievable, and it happens just when we’re just about to lose hope. There’s no need to fear, though. See? The heroine and the hero have bettered themselves, they’re changed, their trajectories have met and are firmly joined.
See? Change; connection; hopefulness. Joy. Magic.
Here it is: love. Magic.
Maybe for us, too. Why not?
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Joan Aiken – www.joanaiken.com – @Amazon
Her Regency-era books are clever, twisty, and beautifully written. If she’s a new-to-you author, and especially if you’re an Austen admirer, I recommend that you start with her masterful Jane Fairfax: The Secret Story of the Second Heroine in Jane Austen’s Emma. (Though I do have a quarrel with the ending.)
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2019 RARM Questions:
Tell us about a time in your life that felt magical to you.
When my now-husband proposed to me. Oh-so-romantic: a trip to Cabo San Lucas for my birthday, moonlight on the beach, a beautiful ring in his pocket. A memory which always reminds me of that delightful quote by Iris Murdoch: “Writing is like getting married. One should never commit oneself until one is amazed at one’s luck.” I was (and still am, after many years of being married to the wonderful Mr. Berne) amazed.
Tell us about a book that was magical for you.
When I was 14, I read my first historical romance — I remember it distinctly. It was Georgette Heyer’s effervescent Lady of Quality, which my mom had gotten from her book club. The jacket cover had this elegantly dressed lady in a ruffled yellow skirt, dainty little sandals, and a bonnet. Despite being over 5,000 miles from Bath, England, and understanding very little of the period terminology, I was enchanted. A smart, capable, independent heroine. A clever, dashing, irresistible hero. Crackling repartee. Who knew that conversation could be so incredibly romantic? Fast forward from that seminal (and magical) moment, and here I am — writing my own historical romances.
How lucky am I?!? (And see the Iris Murdoch quote above.)
Tell us about a “magical moment” in your writing or your career?
Holding in my hands a hot-off-the-press copy of my first book, You May Kiss the Bride. Magic incarnate!
For writers who use magical aspects in their books, what attracts you to those elements? For those of you who don’t, are there specific themes or elements you’re attracted to and find yourself going back to? Why do these resonate with you?
I do sometimes like to incorporate magical elements in my books: you’ll find them most prominently in You May Kiss the Bride and The Laird Takes a Bride, and there’s a fun little hint of it in the book I’m currently writing, The Worst Duke in the World. I like to include these elements — when they suit the story — because I enjoy them myself in books/movies/TV shows and also because, as Hamlet says to his friend Horatio, “There are more things in heaven and earth . . . than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
I think life is incredibly rich, colorful, deep, and mysterious.
Creativity is a kind of magical experience. What inspires you, keeps you going, helps you when you lose focus, etc.?
Do you know that wry remark “I hate writing, but I love having written”? Commonly attributed to Dorothy Parker, it’s a state of mind with which I sometimes identify: the experience of writing can be hard. Painfully, exasperatingly, miserably, tediously hard.
But it’s also — almost always — fun, interesting, exciting, pleasurable, and joyful. And it’s both the challenge and the joy which keep me moving forward.
Drawing – Lisa is generously giving away copies of You May Kiss the Bride and The Laird Takes a Bride to one lucky reader. (U.S. only, apologies to international friends.) To enter, leave a comment below. Open until Sept 4 , 2019 11:59 PM EST.
However, all comments will also be entered to win a bundle of books from the Week 4 participating authors. You may enter by commenting on this original blog post and/or on the Read-A-Romance Month Facebook page post, here.
Each first unique comment at each space offers an extra chance to win, so check in with each author. Must comment by 9/05/19 11:59pm Eastern to enter.
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Influenced and inspired by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Loretta Chase, Lisa Berne writes historical romance for Avon Books, with her Penhallow Dynasty series set mostly in Regency-era Britain. Coming soon are the fourth and fifth books in the series, Engaged to the Earl and The Worst Duke in the World.
Lisa lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest.
Discover all of Lisa’s books:
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