Author Archives: Jo

I Got a Little Carried Away Teaching

Dear world, I am back.

Somehow or other, 2014 disappeared on me, or I disappeared on it, at least in terms of this website. So what happened? Teaching happened (And my second novel happened; more on that another time.)

When I first started teaching, a colleague told me, “Teaching will eat you alive, if you let it.”

zombie food pyramid

It does, and it did, especially this year.

Not in a “zombies ate my brain” way (although some days it feels exactly like that), but in an “I’ll just finish one more thing and then I’ll definitely [go home/turn off the computer/go to bed/whatever]” way. And then when you look back at the clock it’s absurdly late and you never did stop, did you? But you still have to get up at Oh, my God o’clock and do it all over again.

And no, this isn’t a “Woe is me, teachers have it so tough” rant. Because, as my colleague pointed out, we do this to ourselves. Nobody is making us put in extra time improving our lessons or trying to figure out how best to help a particular student. We pour our time and effort into teaching, despite whatever it may cost in terms of our own well-being, because it’s what we want to do.

Notice how the 2 students in front are too busy texting each other to listen to the teacher? Plus ca change... [School of Athens (detail), Raphael, 1509]

Notice how the 2 students in front are too busy texting each other to listen to the teacher? Plus ça change… [School of Athens (detail), Raphael, 1509]

Believe me, these days no one is teaching unless they have to. For some, of course, the necessity is primarily economic (I confess that I, too, enjoy receiving a paycheck). However, I believe that most of us are motivated by the need to teach, the need to offer our knowledge and skills to help our students learn and grow and thrive. We need to teach the way some people need to paint, or dance, or compose, or follow any other path.

[Full disclosure: I also have lousy time management skills. Lots of dedicated teachers don’t get eaten alive because they figure out how to get and stay organized and how to balance teaching with everything else in their lives. I’m still working on it. And always will be, I suspect.]

Banishing the Ghost of Xmas Letters Past (I ♥ Facebook)

For the longest time I carefully avoided Facebook (and every other version of social media). I’m not sure exactly what I was expecting, but now that I’ve been on Facebook for a month, I’m definitely having fun.

Do You Hear the People Snore? 

I was of course a little leery about the whole privacy thing, but my main concern had to do with what to post. After all, the point of being on Facebook is to interact with people by sharing about yourself, and while the details of my life are endlessly fascinating to me, I had a hard time imagining that they would be quite so enthralling to others.

What on earth could I post about? Offering regular “and then I scrubbed the bathtub”-type updates didn’t seem like a good idea. (Or maybe I’m thinking of how to be boring on Twitter. Anyway.)

Even if I managed to ramp things up a bit (“Sitting in the kitchen eating madeleines and trying to remember why I never got around to reading Proust”), I would then be in danger of something much, much worse…the dreaded “Christmas Letter” effect.

Christoalphabetaphobia (Fear of Xmas Letters)

The Last of the Spirits (from A Christmas Carol), John Leech, 1843 (cropped)

The Heartbreak of Christoalphabetaphobia (The Last of the Spirits, John Leech, 1843)

For those of you lucky enough never to have seen one of these concoctions, here’s a sampling of what you missed:

 Dear Everybody,

                Once again we’ve had a fabulous year. Fifi graduated summa cum laude from obedience school. Pat got another promotion (which makes three in eighteen months). Since I’ve been spending so much time raising all that money for Save the Ferrets, I’ve cut back to only five days a week at my ice sculpting studio.

And so on and relentlessly on for an entire page (or worse, two pages), single spaced (extra points for using a background in a shade of green or red so dark the words can barely be read).

Needless to say, not the sort of thing I’m anxious to inflict on others, even accidentally.

Everything, All the Time (Except Christmas Letters)

Now that I’m actually on Facebook, I can see why people love it. It’s a huge, friendly free-for-all with everybody chatting and posting and commenting all over the place—lots and lots (and lots and lots) of posts that are thought-provoking, silly, informative, funny, intriguing, and—Danger, Will Robinson—fun to read.

Facebook, it turns out, is like a giant newspaper full of human interest stories [and for those who know exactly what I’m talking about, let us pause a moment to sigh over the decline of the daily paper].

In fact, the main problem I’ve discovered is that there’s just too much going on. I bounce around, reading what other people have to say and chiming in with my own ideas, and suddenly hours have gone by and I haven’t done any actual work (like, say, writing a few more pages of my new novel). Oops.

People on Facebook have been very welcoming—“Come on in, splash around, the water’s fine.” I’m looking forward to finding out what I have to contribute to the conversation.


NEWS: Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter Officially Released!


I’m so happy I could just about bust. Today my novel, Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter Or The Lass that Loved a Pirate, makes its official worldwide debut. I can hardly believe it. This time last year I hadn’t even finished the manuscript, and now the book is out there just waiting for you to fall in love with it and take it home.

On Virtual Bookshelves Everywhere

My book is now available at all finer online literary emporiums (emporia?) [Barnes and Noble, Amazon, etc.]—and always from Bold Strokes Books (in all e-book formats).

A Sneak Peek Inside

You can check out two different excerpts from Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter:

Young Woman Reading, Jean Raoux

Another Satisfied Customer [YMMV] (Young Woman Reading, Jean Raoux)


News: Stevie Talks Funny (Another Guest Blog)

I’m extremely pleased to be guest blogging today on Women and Words, Jove Belle’s wonderful blog (you should seriously subscribe). My subject is why my pirate, Stevie, talks the way she does throughout my brand new, just-released first novel, Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter, or The Lass that Loved a Pirate.

Here’s the short version:  I love, love, love the sounds and variations of the English language. And throughout the blog, Stevie gets a chance to speak for herself.

Yeah, Stevie Talks Funny (How the Music of the English Language Led Me Astray)

News: Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter Now Available from BSB!

Yes, my book is available for sale. Right now. Imagine a video of me jumping up and down. [www.thisisnotanactualyoutubelink.con]

Exclusively from Bold Strokes Books (until 8/13)

Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter, or The Lass that Loved a Pirate is available now (prior to its official August 13 release date) directly from Bold Strokes Books—for the same low, low price as other vendors, except that you can buy it today.

An E-Book Exclusive!

This is an ebook-only publication, and in case you were wondering, Bold Strokes definitely has all formats available—Nook, Kindle, Sony, Kobo, ipad, whatever. (If you’re not sure what format you need, see the FAQ on BSB’s homepage.)

Buy More and Save

BSB offers a 10% discount on purchases over $25, so why not treat yourself? They publish lots and lots of excellent books by great authors, and I’m not just saying that because I want you to buy my book (or theirs). I’ve been a very happy BSB reader for many years, since long before I ever even finished my novel, let alone had it accepted by BSB for publication.

But Wait, There’s More

Actually, there isn’t. (Sorry. It’s a book, not a pocket fisherman, the amazing Ginsu, or even a bass-o-matic.) But please buy my book anyway. (Did I mention you can get it from Bold Strokes Books this very minute?)

WAC telephone operators, 1945, National Archives

Operators might be standing by (WACs at Potsdam conference, 1945)

Updated Update: Actually, You Can Read My Whole Interview

Correction: The Bold Strokes Books July Newsletter published a condensed version of my interview. But I had plenty more to say: about my new book, and how I approach my own writing, and helpful hints for anybody out there who’s even newer at this writing thing than I am, and a lot more. So why not read my whole interview?

True Confessions: How I Learned to Love My E-Reader (aka The Sober Joys of the Virtual Book)

Definitely Not an Early Adopter

Considering how devoted I am to the enjoyment of a well-made book as a physical object, it is with some chagrin that I report that not only have I purchased an e-reader, but I’m glad I did.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m no Luddite. I love computers. I got my first one sometime around 1985 (and I still miss my Kaypro, even though the screen was the size of a slice of bread and had only one color—green. My computer was even portable—meaning it came with a handle so you could heft all 20 pounds of it around if you needed to, which is more than could be said for the first few generations of PCs.).

Cuneiform Tablet from Assyria

Cuneiform Tablet from Assyria

Still, the minute I heard about e-books, I knew I was definitely not going to be reading any. Not ever. Electronic books just seemed so wrong, somehow (unlike all the other things that I’m quite happy to read from a screen, like online content for instance—but that is, of course, totally different). I used to say (to myself, since nobody was actually asking for my opinion) that the only way to get me near an e-book would be to stick an e-reader into my cold, dead hand.

[At this point, feel free to insert your own version of a “get off my lawn”-type rant about crazy newfangled notions and the decline of Western civilization.]

I suspect the clay tablet fans in Babylon had a similar reaction to that weird new papyrus/paper stuff.

The Irony is Getting Pretty Thick in Here

As time went by and I saw my students happily reading on their cell phones, tablets, and various other devices (when they were actually reading and not snapchatting or texting or watching cat videos) I began to reconsider. After all, anything that can get people reading has got to have some good points, right? But still, not for me. (That sound in the background is the universe snickering.)

And then Bold Strokes said they wanted to publish my book. Which was going to be an e-book-only release. Oh. Well, in that case… And lo and behold, e-books suddenly sounded like a great idea.

So yes, my conversion to the wonders of virtual reading has been largely a matter of enlightened self-interest (translation: I’d like to be able to read my own book). Thanks to some encouragement from my editor (always listen to your editor—she will save you from yourself, if you let her), I finally bought an e-reader.

Beware of Converts—They Tend to be Fanatics

So now it can be told—I really like my e-reader. Aside from the (not negligible) fun I’m having playing with a new tech toy, I’m crazy about the practicality of the thing.

I do love a good hardcover book, but let’s face it, those suckers are heavy. Especially when you’re lugging around more than one (I tend to read a couple of different books at once, usually a fiction and a nonfiction, which I alternate depending on my mood and how much reading time I’m able to snatch in between obligations). Apologies to all of you for whom this has always been obvious, but I’m getting a huge kick out of being able to hold a hundred-plus books in the palm of one hand, in an object the same size and weight as the (pen and paper) notebook I’m using to draft this post.

Plus (again, sorry to be Captain Obvious) you can read your e-book no matter how dim the light is, and bump up the type size, too (who knew?)—which are both huge recommendations for someone with aging eyeballs.

One Teensy Concern

8" Floppy Disc and Friends

8″ Floppy Disc and Friends

I do have one small worry about my e-reader. This whiz-bang piece of technology is—wait for it—technology. Which means that sometime between tomorrow and twenty years from now, it will be obsolete, and all of my hundreds of virtual books will be unreadable. (Skeptics: Eight-track tapes. Betamax video. Floppy discs. ‘Nuff said.)

Yes, I know that there will almost certainly be some way to convert all those e-books to whatever the next big tech thing turns out to be. But all that converting is also bound to be a big old pain in the rear.

A physical book, on the other hand, remains readable, as is, for hundreds of years. All you have to do is open it. Even if part of it gets damaged, the rest of it is still perfectly fine. A damaged e-book is just a bunch of scrambled electrons. Try using it to prop up a table leg, practice your posture, or fend off a zombie attack, and you will end up with coffee in your lap, a sad stoop, or a prominent spot on some undead chef’s bill of fare.

Heck, speaking of clay tablets, those little squares of hardened mud are still in great shape and easy to read (or so I’ve heard—unlike Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Model of a Modern Major General,” I claim no skill with cuneiform) thousands and thousands of years after they were created. It doesn’t get much more practical than that.

Try It, You Like It

Despite my one teensy concern, I do suggest that those of you still leery of taking the virtual plunge consider giving e-books a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.

News and Updates: Interview, Guest Blog & Facebook


The July edition of the Bold Strokes Books newsletter includes an interview with me. Correction: This is a link to the whole interview (the version in the newsletter is condensed): Updated link

Guest Blog

I’m guest blogging today on the Bold Strokes Books Authors Blog:
My forthcoming book, Revenge of the Parson’s Daughter, Or The Lass that Loved a Pirate, has three main inspirations: Georgette Heyer, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Gilbert and Sullivan. SInce I’ve already written about the first two of my sources, my guest blog is about Gilbert and Sullivan.


I’m also now on Facebook, so stop by, drop me a note, friend me, etc.

Sensual Pleasures: The Book as Physical Object [Part One: Nostalgia]

Heritage Books

Heritage Books. That phrase may mean something to those of you of a certain age, who like me can remember when Wonder Bread was health food (“Helps build strong bodies 12 ways!”). Back then there were Heritage Books, and we had a whole bookcase full of them.heritage books moll flanders

These weren’t just books, they were Books. All hardcover, of course, but there was more to them, much more. Each one had been carefully designed to be a beautiful and inviting embodiment of one classic work of literature. They had Size. And Weight.

Not that they were big for the sake of being big, like some giant, glossy offering that would work better as an actual coffee table than a reading experience. They were well balanced and easy to handle. Many were smaller than an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper, though they were usually quite thick (most classics are pretty long, after all).

They had substance. Just picking one up, feeling its solidity, you knew you were about to enjoy something wonderful.

Delicious Design

Unlike most hardcovers, they didn’t have dust jackets—they had slipcases. Holding that case in your hands, gently sliding the book out, was like opening a treasure chest, because you never knew quite what to expect, but you knew it was going to be special. The cover design, the endpapers, the illustrations, the very typeface had been specifically chosen to complement this one book, to present the author’s words to you as carefully as a master jeweler creates a setting for an exquisite gem. [And you knew all this because the people at Heritage Press would helpfully explain the choices to you, in the introduction or afterword or the “Sandglass” newsletter that my father always tucked inside the front cover.]

I only remember a few specifics. Picasso was commissioned to do the drawings for Lysistrata. The words on the spine of Moll Flanders were stamped in metal, but in copper (rathermrs-bennet helen sewell than the more usual gold) because copper tarnishes (or mellows with age, depending on your perspective), which seemed a good match for the lady’s career. Pride and Prejudice was perfectly illustrated with warm yet slightly acid sketches that poked more-or-less gentle fun at all the characters (by artist Helen Sewell).

Everything about a Heritage Book was designed to increase the pleasure of reading it. Sewn bindings (of course), thick, smooth paper with an easy-on-the-eyes creaminess, the entire volume a solid size and weight but never too big or too heavy.

Easy to handle. Lovely to touch. Sit down, it whispers. Open me. Spend some time. You won’t regret it.

5 Reasons You Should Be Reading Georgette Heyer

1. You wish Jane Austen had written more books.

rouget 2 regency women

If you are an Austen fan, you know that one of the chiefest pleasures of her books is rereading them. But that only goes so far, and at some point (probably right about the time you are trying to force yourself to yet again face Mansfield Park), you may want to branch out a bit. If only you could find something romantic (but not sentimental), with witty dialogue and interesting characters, all in a Regency setting. Why not give Georgette Heyer a try? No, of course her books aren’t exactly like Austen’s—nor should they be. But they have plenty of sparkle, humor, and romance. It’s rather like choosing between champagne and a champagne cocktail.

2. You’re a rom-com fan.

You know the drill—they meet cute, they don’t get along, circumstances force them to spend time together, and they keep fighting until—just when one of them realizes they’re in love—disaster happens, a disaster that somehow turns into a happy ending. With a good cast and a halfway-decent script, it’s a painless way to spend a couple of hours and five or ten dollars. Well, Georgette Heyer’s books have all the fun, but with much better dialogue. And they’re cheaper, too, on a per-hour basis.

3. You’ve been spending too much time lately reading literary fiction.

Why not take a break from the heavy, deep, and real to sample Georgette Heyer’s oeuvre? Trade the free-floating angst and existential crises of today for witty exchanges and foolish escapades among the rich and idle of two centuries ago—well-crafted prose that, light though it may be, still manages to thoroughly explore the mysteries of the human heart in all its absurd glory.

4. You’re into chick lit.

Georgette Heyer has it all: gossip, friendships, backstabbing, parties, wardrobe, romance, shopping. What’s not to like?

5. You have a sense of adventure.regency man

Georgette Heyer’s novels aren’t just ball gowns and banter. She manages to pack plenty of action into her plots. A quick survey of her stories reveals kidnappings, several duels, a couple of attempted murders, housebreaking, smuggling, a few shootings, insanity, a runaway hot air balloon, and the Battle of Waterloo. [I’m told that her account of the battle is so accurate that An Infamous Army has been used as a text at Sandhurst (the British military academy).]

So, where to start?

The most fun is probably The Grand Sophy, but you really can’t go too far wrong with any of her novels. I definitely recommend Arabella, Bath Tangle, Cousin Kate, Faro’s Daughter, The Foundling, Sprig Muslin, Sylvester (or The Wicked Uncle) and Venetia. My own favorite is Cotillion, but since it’s partly a self-parody, to really enjoy it you need to read a few of her other books first.