Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs

About The Book

From the bestselling author of Pride, Prejudice, and Cheese Grits comes a new and comical contemporary take on the perennial Jane Austen classic, Emma.

Caroline Ashley is a journalist on the rise at The Washington Post until the sudden death of her father brings her back to Thorny Hollow to care for her mentally fragile mother and their aging antebellum home. The only respite from the eternal rotation of bridge club meetings and garden parties is her longtime friend, Brooks Elliott. A professor of journalism, Brooks is the voice of sanity and reason in the land of pink lemonade and triple layer coconut cakes. But when she meets a fascinating, charismatic young man on the cusp of a brand new industry, she ignores Brooks’s misgivings and throws herself into the project.

Brooks struggles to reconcile his parents’ very bitter marriage with his father’s devastating grief at the recent loss of his wife. Caroline is the only bright spot in the emotional wreckage of his family life. She’s a friend and he’s perfectly happy to keep her safely in that category. Marriage isn’t for men like Brooks and they both know it… until a handsome newcomer wins her heart. Brooks discovers Caroline is much more than a friend, and always has been, but is it too late to win her back?

Featuring a colorful cast of southern belles, Civil War re-enactors, and good Christian women with spunk to spare, Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs brings the modern American South to light in a way only a contemporary Jane Austen could have imagined.

Excerpt

Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs

Were I to fall in love, indeed, it would be a different thing; but I have never been in love; it is not my way, or my nature; and I do not think I ever shall.

—EMMA



CHAPTER ONE

Utter disaster on a cake platter.

Caroline Ashley stood back and surveyed her creation. The fabulous triple-layer fudge cake with light-as-air espresso-­flavored chocolate frosting did not look like the photo in the magazine. It didn’t look much like a cake at all. Leaning to the left and shedding gritty brown frosting in ultraslow motion, this cake wasn’t quite what her mother had requested for her Wednesday bridge group.

The recipe looked downright simple. Mix together, bake, frost. How hard could it be? Caroline blinked the sweat out of her eyes and stared around the sweltering kitchen, groaning at the sight. Flour, mixing bowls smeared with batter and butter-cube wrappers dotted the workspace. A purist would never have upgraded from the original Civil War–era fixtures, but her mama was not a purist. The long marble counters, custom Mississippi-oak cabinets and a heated flagstone floor were all top-of-the-line. The hammered-copper sink was original, but it was obscured by dirty dishes more often than not.

Their cook, Angie, loved to create her masterpiece desserts in here, although Mama had been giving her more and more time off. All the fancy kitchen equipment was going to waste on Caroline’s watch. She was trying, and failing, to be a personal chef. Not that it was a role she’d ever wanted.

Lifting the cake platter, she carried it to the freezer, sliding it in between the bags of sweet peas and a carton of vanilla ice cream. In only an hour the bridge group would show up, and there wasn’t time to make another. She could pray the cake would miraculously right itself and set into something more like the picture. Or she could run away from home.

“Something smells good.” Caroline whirled at the sound of the voice, even though she knew the speaker before she saw him. Brooks Elliot, her friend since before she’d learned to ride a two-wheeler down the long driveway, had a habit of showing up at all the best—and the worst—times. At his side stood a golden retriever, mouth lolling open, tongue half-out in a big doggy smile. Brooks looked cool, calm and collected in a perfectly tailored deep blue suit. His spotless white shirt and pale blue silk tie completed the picture of effortless style. It was unbelievably irritating.

He cocked his head. “Hiding something?”

Caroline rolled her eyes. “Not from you, Professor.” She liked to use his title in a chirpy little voice that got on his nerves. Opening the freezer door, they surveyed the cake-that-was-not-a-cake together. “Although I don’t trust Absalom within five feet of anything edible.” She reached down to scratch behind the dog’s ears, loving how the retriever’s whole body wagged against her leg.

“Hmmm.” Brooks pretended to be choosing his next statement carefully, but as her oldest friend, he knew he never had to watch his words. “Not so sure you need to take precautions.”

“Hilarious. You’re making fun of my cake, but I saw this dog eat through the leg of your grandpa’s best rocker.”

“Hey, we don’t bring up the past. Right, Ab?” Brooks reached down and ruffled the dog’s fur. Those two were thick as thieves. Better not get on the bad side of one, or you’d be on the bad side of the other.

It felt wonderful to stand inches from the frosty freezer. She wanted to crawl inside and never come out. But there was a bridge party to entertain. She closed the door and shrugged. The strands of hair sticking to the back of her neck reminded her she still needed to shower, and the reflection in the stainless steel door didn’t argue. Blond hair escaped from her ponytail in several different directions. Her cheeks flushed pink, green-blue eyes just smudges. Behind her was a wavery image as familiar as her own. A head taller than she was, with sandy-blond hair and dark brows, Brooks was the kind of man that made women check his hand for a ring. When they’d first met, she’d been too young to think of him that way and preferred dreaming of boy bands and the quarterback at her high school. But as the years passed, she couldn’t help noticing how the rest of the female population reacted to him. Every year it was more and more obvious that he was the catch of the tiny town of Thorny Hollow, and beyond.

She met his gaze in the reflection and grinned when he winked at her. Brooks, the consummate flirt. They were related, sort of, by marriage, and he always occupied that hazy area between cousin and guy friend. Whatever he was, catch or not, he was never less than a perfect gentleman.

“I’m sure it will be just fine after it sets.” She spun to face him, tugging on the strings of her red gingham apron, which seemed to have tied themselves into a knot.

Brooks gently turned her around and brushed away her hands, loosening the apron strings. Absalom wedged his furry body between them, his tail thumping against the back of her legs in a steady rhythm of happiness. “How’s the book?” Brooks asked.

Oh, that. “Coming right along.”

“I think you should call it The Never-Ending Story.” His expression in the refrigerator-door reflection was completely serious.

“Hardy har har.” It was just a little bit funny, she had to admit. Her idea of the great American novel had morphed into a Gone with the Wind remake, which had become a historical saga spanning the Russian Revolution. Why? Because she was bored. It was not a great reason to write a book and it showed. She’d been working on it for two years and it wasn’t even close to being finished.

“You know, just because your mama asks for a chocolate cake doesn’t mean you have to make one.”

She stared up at the high, arched ceiling, biting back words. It was easy for Brooks to give advice on family matters when he lived a happily independent life, or as independent as that of a good Southern son could be. He was still expected to come home for weddings and holidays and weekends regularly. But being a journalism professor at Midlands came with respect, a nice house and a decent distance from his cranky-pants father. No such luck for her.

“Bravard’s Bakery makes a great triple-layer cake. You could have asked me to pick one up on the way through town. You know I’m here almost every weekend. Absalom’s so used to the drive, we’re going to switch places next time. He’ll drive and I’ll stick my head out the window and yell at passing cars.”

She snorted at the image but regretted the ungenerous thoughts of a moment ago. Brooks lived a few hours away in Spartainville, but that didn’t mean he was immune to the call of the needy parent. “Your grandma moved in to keep your father company, but she wants to get out of that old house every now and then, too. Your mom passed away so quickly, I don’t think he had a chance to come to terms with what happened. I think he’s just lonely without her.”

“I’m not sure why. Maybe he misses the constant bickering. You know, I don’t really mind hanging at the old homestead every weekend, but with our grandmother off on another cruise, Manning needs to step up once in a while.”

“They’re still in the honeymoon phase.” Brooks’s brother and her cousin were happily ignoring the entire family now that they had subjected the town to an over-the-top Southern-style wedding. Ten bridesmaids in rainbow-hued gowns, ten groomsmen in matching bow ties, a catered reception featuring every Southern delicacy known to mankind and a live band playing in an old barn for a dance that went on until dawn? It was enough wedding to last Caroline all year. Maybe more. Nobody could get married simply out here. That was just one more reason she’d never dreamed of every girl’s “special day.” Too much fuss, too much money spent on nothing real and everyone else had to play along just to make the bride happy.

Brooks sighed. “It’s been a year. Since you take full credit for getting them together, it’s up to you to tell them it’s time to rejoin the real world. Hard as it is to believe, I do have a life in Spartainville.”

“Did you finally find a girlfriend?” She knew even before she turned around that he would say no. Brooks just wasn’t the type to marry. In fact, he didn’t really date. He’d never said much about it, but she knew his growing up as a child of an unhappy couple made him less than eager to enter into his own romantic union.

“You’ll be the first to know.” He lifted the apron strap over her head and hung it on the peg near the back door. “Why are you cooking on a hot day like this, anyway?”

“Because my mama asked, and I always feel like I need to prove myself in the kitchen.”

His mouth twitched. “Finley, a brilliant journalist can’t be expected to bake triple-layer cakes. It wouldn’t be fair to the rest of the world if you were that perfect.”

She shot him a look. He would never give up that silly nickname. Caroline Ashley had nothing in common with Finley Peter Dunne, great American political humorist and newspaperman of the turn of the century. But Brooks had called her Finley ever since he saw some little sketch she’d made about their high school principal, and that was that.

Brilliant journalist. He was just being kind, but she smiled as the words reverberated in her head. Coming from Brooks, it meant a lot. Graduating with highest honors and landing the job of a lifetime after her internship at the Washington Post still gave her a glow of pride. It was the best thing she’d ever done.

The smile faded from her lips. It was the only thing, really.

“I’d trade all that supposed brilliance for a decent approximation of that magazine picture,” she said.

“And a chili-slaw dog.”

“You know me so well.” Absalom’s head went up at the mention of a chili-slaw dog. The only other creature who loved them more than Caroline was the golden retriever sniffing around the large kitchen, hoping for edibles dropped by the careless cook.

“When you have a big wedding like Manning and Debbie Mae, you’ll have to have one long table of chili-slaw dogs instead of the cheese straws and hush puppies.”

“I’m not jumping on the marriage train. I feel like Pleasant Crump most days, but finding a husband isn’t the answer.” Crump was famous in these parts for being the last living Confederate soldier until he passed away in the 1950s.

“That’s a bit dramatic.”

“Maybe to you. As a man, you can take all the time you want, but women are groomed for the big white day from the moment the doctor slaps our little bottoms in the delivery room.” She wiped her forehead with a kitchen towel and watched Absalom vacuum up all the cake crumbs from the floor. “And anyway, I’ve seen what happens in a Thorny Hollow wedding, and even if I wanted chili-slaw dogs, I wouldn’t get to have them. The bride never gets her way. It’s all run by the old ladies, every single detail.”

“Probably right.”

“Speaking of old ladies, if I don’t get showered and spiffed up, Mama is going to have a breakdown when the bridge group gets a look at me.”

“And I’ve got to get home. Come on, Ab.” Brooks patted his leg and the golden retriever reluctantly withdrew his nose from under the cabinets. The dog looked up at Caroline with hope in his bright black eyes and she shook her head.

“Chocolate isn’t good for dogs, buddy.”

“I don’t think that chocolate is the real gastronomical danger here.” Brooks cut his eyes to the freezer and bolted out the back door, with Absalom hot on his heels. The kitchen towel she tossed at him thumped harmlessly against the leaded, diamond-pattern window of the antique kitchen door as it swung closed.

Caroline stood for a moment, listening to the two of them cross the old wooden wraparound porch and head for the car. Brooks had been driving back to Thorny Hollow almost every weekend to fix windows or oil squeaky hinges or even weed the flower beds. That a full-time caretaker lived in a carriage house a short distance from the main house didn’t seem to matter at all to Brooks’s father. His marriage had been notoriously acrimonious, but he seemed unmoored without Nancy.

Grabbing a clean towel and trotting upstairs to the bathroom, Caroline sighed. Almost three years ago her daddy had passed away, leaving her mama in absolute shock. Lonely, lost and refusing to leave her room. When Mama asked Caroline to come home, she hadn’t hesitated. She walked away from the job she loved and the years she’d put into her career because that’s just what good daughters did. It killed her to leave it all behind, but she’d done it.

Rejoining the workforce was going to be harder than simply packing a few boxes, if she was honest with herself. She’d been writing freelance articles and doing online news services, but it wasn’t the same as joining the hustle and bustle of a big city and a powerful company. She’d lost her groove, her confidence. She might not be completely happy here, but she knew this town and she knew how to stand around in pearls at a party. Taking care of her mom had turned into taking the easy way out.

The ornately framed bathroom mirror showed a clearer version of the stainless-steel-fridge reflection, but this one mercilessly highlighted her shiny forehead and sweaty hair. Poor Brooks. He didn’t seem to mind the hot mess he’d seen, but a tiny part of her wished he had walked in before the cake, not after. At least she wouldn’t have been drenched in sweat.

She put a hand under the dribbling showerhead and tested the water, knowing it took at least four minutes for the water heater to kick in for this part of the house. Her mother had recently redone her private bath in marble and heated stone tile, junking the claw-foot tub and built-in antique vanities despite Caroline’s protests. But this bathroom still had the original fixtures. Caroline ran a finger along the curved, cool edge of the claw-foot tub before her, smiling at the pink porcelain. She’d hated this tub when she was younger, wishing she had a sparkling-new shower stall and gleaming fixtures like Debbie Mae’s. The eighties had been the age of glass and chrome, of Robert Palmer video vixens with slicked-back hair and bright red lips. It was not the era of pink claw-foot tubs and copper fixtures and itty-bitty pink, octagonal tiles covering one enormous wall.

But her daddy had refused to change a thing about their home, saying it was unnecessary. Just like the tiny gap between her front teeth. He’d said it was the way she’d been made and it was beautiful. The thought of him sent a sharp pain through her. She acknowledged it with a quick prayer of thanksgiving. Gratitude helped the loss, somehow. She was grateful for him, for his quiet humor and stubborn personality. Wishing him here didn’t help one bit, but she still did. Their little family just wasn’t the same without him, especially her mama.

If only her mama hadn’t given up everything when she married. If only she had kept her job, maybe working on the side while raising a family. But that wasn’t done. Not back then, and not around Thorny Hollow. Now her husband was gone and Mama had no reason even to get out of bed. No matter how much she loved them both, Caroline felt a chill at the thought of marriage. They’d been happy, so happy, but what happens when the person who is your everything dies? What then?

Caroline stuck her hand into the cold spray of water. No, she wasn’t ready for any kind of serious commitment. She wanted to have a good job and be professionally fulfilled before she vowed a lifetime of love to another person.

All of this was far away from the pressures of the moment. She hauled in a breath and let it out slowly. It didn’t make any sense to worry about how her husband would treat her professional life because she didn’t have a single prospect for either at the moment. The tepid water shifted to warm and she shrugged off her clothes. Stepping carefully into the old tub and drawing the curtain closed, she tried not to focus on the problems ahead. Mainly, that her mother was minutes away from welcoming ten of Thorny Hollow’s finest bridge players and there was no cake.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for Emma, Mr. Knightley, and Chili-Slaw Dogs includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Mary Jane Hathaway. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Life doesn’t always turn out like you planned. Just ask Caroline Ashley. Convinced she will be a career woman and never marry, she never imagined leaving her dream job as a journalist in D.C. to return to Thorny Hollow to care for her grief-stricken mother after her father’s death. Or ask Brooks Elliot. He never intended to see his lifelong friendship with Caroline change in ways that alarmed and confused him. Neither one of them could have planned the unexpected series of circumstances and relationships that set them up to be modern-day actors in Jane Austen’s classic story of Emma. And no one was more surprised than they were at where the road led them.  

Topics & Questions for Discussion 

1. What did you enjoy most about Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs? Which character was your favorite? Which one annoyed you the most?
 
2. On page 8, the narrator of the story says: “Taking care of her [Caroline’s] mom had turned into taking the easy way out.” Describe what you think the narrator meant by this comment about Caroline. Based on what you learned about Caroline throughout the story, do you agree?
 
3. One of the themes of the novel is the indirect communication between some of the characters, more specifically between the men and women. What are some of the pros and cons of the indirect style of communication between the various characters in the novel? What impact does the indirect communication have on their relationships? Do you prefer indirect or direct communication? Why? 4. Compare and contrast Caroline Ashley with Emma Woodhouse in Jane Austen’s Emma. How are the worlds they inhabit both similar and different?
 
5. On page 51, Caroline and Brooks argue over their opinions about how men and women view each other. In what ways do each of their actions throughout the story confirm or refute their expressed opinions?
 
6. Describe how each of their parents’ marriage has shaped Caroline’s and Brooks’s beliefs about marriage. What do they each fear about marriage? In what ways have your beliefs about relationships been shaped by your family relationships?
 
7. On page 78, the narrator says: “He [Brooks] understood her [Caroline’s] unspoken question.” Describe the ways that Brooks and Caroline accurately interpret each others’ unspoken words and actions as well as ways they misinterpret one another throughout the story. How does their familiarity with one another contribute to their misinterpretations?
 
8. Why do you think Caroline Ashley takes such an interest in Lexi Martinez and her career choice? On page 95, Caroline says: “You need to follow your heart. God’s given you a gift and you shouldn’t squander it in accounting classes,” and, on page 94, Lexi says: “Finding your calling sounds like something rich people worry about.” Which one do you agree with? What does Caroline’s advice reveal about her assumptions about life? How would you have advised Lexi?
 
9. Compare Brooks Elliot to the character of Mr. Knightley in Emma. What do you appreciate the most about Brooks? Did anything annoy you about him?
 
10. What role does the relationship between Lauren Fairfield and Franklin Keene play in the story? What characters from Emma do Lauren and Franklin resemble?
 
11. What are the various perspectives of marriage presented throughout the story? Contrast these with the perspective of marriage presented in Emma. How are marriage and social status related in both stories?
 
12. How does Caroline’s inherited social status inform her assumptions and biases about life and the future? What are some of the catalysts in the story that challenge her assumptions and biases?
 
13. In what ways does Caroline’s relationship with her mother reflect one of Caroline’s fatal flaws? Describe the flaw and how it is reflected in other relationships as well. Do you see any growth in Caroline throughout the story?
 
14. If you could spend an afternoon with one character from this story, who would you choose? Why?
 

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Watch the movie Emma. Compare and contrast the attitudes toward women, marriage and communication reflected in the time periods of the two stories, Emma and Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs.
 
2. Take a field trip and go antiquing. As you look at various items, imagine the stories that brought the item to its current place.
 
3. Throw a Jane Austen party, inviting people to come dressed up as their favorite Jane Austen character. Serve pink lemonade.
 
  
 

A Conversation with Mary Jane Hathaway 

What inspired you to write this story?  

Emma by Jane Austen, of course!

Do you have a favorite Jane Austen novel?  

I thought it was Pride and Prejudice, but after reading and rereading Emma so many times for this book, I realized it was much funnier than I remembered. There are lines in the original Emma that make me laugh every single time I read them . . . and that is hard to do. I’ve heard some say that not much of anything happens in Emma, but I disagree. I love the heroine, in all her stages, not just the end where she learns to stop trying to make the world bend to her will. I love Mr. Knightley as the family friend, and as hero stuck firmly in the friend zone. I especially love him at the end, when he is brave enough to offer his heart to Emma, even though he doesn’t think he has much of a chance.

Do you like chili-slaw dogs and pink lemonade? What inspired you to include them as part of the story?  

Funny, I love pink lemonade! I have wonderful memories of pink lemonade at parties in my youth, but it’s not a very sophisticated drink. I thought it would be fun to torture Caroline with pink lemonade everywhere she goes.

I’ve had a chili-slaw dog twice, and it was fine. I’m not a fan of coleslaw so I felt like I was ruining a really good hot dog, though. It’s hard to find a food I won’t eat, but I might have my slaw on the side next time.

As for why they’re in the story, I have a friend who loves to stop at a little stand outside his town in Mississippi and have a chili-slaw dog. He was gracious enough to ask the owner for the exact ingredients, and then I made some here in Oregon. I know, the life of writer is so much work! Eating and talking and writing and eating some more.

Antiques played a central role in this story. Are you an antique collector?  

Not at all. I think Austen said it best in Persuasion, when she had Mary Elliot Musgrove say, “A lady, without a family, was the very best preserver of furniture in the world.” I can have a house full of kids (including four boys under ten) or I can have nice antiques.

But I do love giving new life to old or broken furniture. Every now and then someone will throw out or give away a very old dresser or table or trunk. I really enjoy spending time cleaning, sanding, repainting or staining it, then putting the piece to good use. My oldest kids and I have refurbished a hundred-year-old trunk, and that was a great family project. Lots of time and elbow grease involved, but we learned a lot. The Internet is a global community and we found many sites that offered direction on refurbishing. We found how-to advice, replacements parts and even hobbyists who would examine a photo of your item and tell you the make/year/style. We have another project waiting for good weather so we can do the work outside and not worry about the mess.

Who was your favorite character to develop in this story?  

My favorite character was probably Blanche.

What endeared her to you?  

I know it’s a little cliché to have a crazy old lady/grandma figure, but I loved her spark and her curiosity about everything in the world. She’s had her share of grief (losing her husband and her daughter), but she finds the good in every experience. When Brooks mentions the Austen dance, Blanche dives into the planning and puts her own spin on the party.

I think the most annoying character was Frank. I know he’s the villain, but I wanted to reach through the page and give him a smack. It’s easier to deal with an honest villain than the villain who pretends to be the hero. Frank is charming, funny, exciting and smart. But even when he’s turning on the charm, Emma sees small habits and attitudes that raise red flags. He acts in a way that Brooks never would, because Brooks is a gentleman and Frank is not.

What was the hardest part of writing a story that is patterned after a classic like Emma?  

I thought I would really struggle with the “friends turn into more” story line but it was so much fun. I had to find little ways to show the reader that Brooks and Caroline were in love, without letting the characters realize it. It seems too obvious to those of us on the outside, but it really needed to take them both by surprise at some point. Of course, that point was different for both Caroline and Brooks, so that was another fun part of the story. Brooks realizes his feelings for Caroline first, while Caroline takes much longer, just like the original Emma.

The hardest part was not stealing every scene that Austen wrote. She had a wonderful eye for setting up a character’s emotional state, and I had to work at finding my own places for Caroline and Brooks to interact. Every now and then I would find myself slipping back into the idea of Brooks visiting, the way a man in the Regency period would. Or I would want to write a big dinner scene with a long table filled with delicious food. There are always visits and dinners, but the Regency period included a lot more social entertaining and visiting than we do now in our modern, busy lives. It sounds odd, but I have a Post-it stuck to my laptop screen that says, USE CELL PHONES AND CARS. When I’m in the middle of an Austen story, I want everyone to send letters and walk everywhere!

Would you have enjoyed living during the time period of one of Jane Austen’s novels?  

I might get my “Austen fan girl” card taken away, but I would say no. Especially as a mom of six, I do like modern medical care. We’ve never had any real medical emergencies, but I’m grateful that if we do, I won’t have to be calling the country doctor to set a bone or watching my kids suffer through diseases we’ve eradicated.

That said, I adore the dresses and the manners and the dancing! If I could spend half my time there (as a noblewoman, mind you) and half here, I would take that offer in a heartbeat.

What do you enjoy doing for leisure when you’re not writing novels?  

I like to run marathons. (All my real-life friends just fell over laughing. I actually despise running. I like to watch other people run, though.)

I have a billion projects going at once, it seems. I love to paint, and my laundry room has two eastern-facing windows that make it the perfect spot. I also like to refurbish furniture, although I’m not very good at it and it takes a lot of time. My kids are always interested in some new thing (owls, planes, geology, pirate treasure maps) so we like to take short trips around the area. I’ve learned a lot from their hobbies, since I was never really interested in birds, aviation or geology, but so far we haven’t found any pirate treasure.

Who are some of your literary heroes, other than Jane Austen? What kind of books do you enjoy reading?  

Oh, boy. I’m a reader at heart and I’ll try to keep this answer short. Just looking at the bookshelf, I’ll write down some authors I love (as in, top of the top, and there are many more I love but are for some reason out of sight and I’m too lazy to get up):
Stephen Crane, Louisa May Alcott, St. Teresa of Ávila, Bruce Catton, The Brontës, Franny Billingsley, Nancy Werlin, The Brothers Grimm, Markus Zusak, Willa Cather, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Aimee Bender, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Erich Maria Remarque, Langston Hughes, Neil Gaiman, Lemony Snicket, Shannon Hale, Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Jonathon Stroud, C. S. Lewis, Scott Westerfeld, James Artemis Owen, Alan Bradley, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Helen Simonson, Lois Duncan.

And now you know that my shelves are completely disorganized.

As a writer, did you identify with Caroline’s season of seeming disappearance from her career as a journalist?  

Absolutely. After college I attended the Warsaw School of Economics. I had studied years of Eastern European languages (Polish, Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian, Old Church Slavonic). When I came back to Oregon, I thought it was a temporary stop on my way somewhere exotic. I met my husband, a Mexican immigrant working in a local factory, and decided to stay just a little longer in this small town. It’s not quite the same as what happened to Caroline, since her decision to return home (and stay) was more about taking care of her family, but I know her journey.

Have you ever had a season when you let go of your writing in order to care for other priorities in your life?  

I started writing in 2009, so I suppose I could say this doesn’t apply to me. But I could also say, “every single day.” Like any working parent, I have to make choices about when and where I work, and how to balance my home life. It’s easy to get caught up in e-mail or little projects or promotions or even jotting down ideas. But as it says in Ecclesiastes 3 (KJV), “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” No matter if it’s during one day or days of the week or times of the year, I have to let go of my writing and care for my family. And I’m happy to do so!

How have you gained so much knowledge about the design of Southern antebellum homes?  

Um . . . Google? Really, there is so much information available now that I could spend hours of writing time every day just reading about these old homes. I have two small books about antebellum and Civil War–era structures, but it’s wonderful to be able to take virtual tours of some of these historic landmarks.

What can we expect from you next?  

I thought the next book would be based on Sense and Sensibility, but even though I have five chapters already written, I may just be heading toward Northanger Abbey! It seems Henry Tilney has quite a fan club, and I get messages every week hoping that Henry is the next “Austen Takes the South” hero. I had no idea that he was so high on the list of favorite Austen heroes, but when I reread the book, I see why. Henry is witty, sensitive, wry, noble, and chooses the woman he loves over his fortune. There’s a gripping love triangle, feuding friends, bad influences, money grubbers, lots of flirting and broken engagements. In the middle of it all are Catherine, a girl who expects life to mirror all her favorite novels, and our hero Henry.

Unless I get a sudden surge of requests for Sense and Sensibility, it looks like Northanger Abbey will find a new home in Mississippi!

About The Author

Photograph courtsey of the author

Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an inspirational fiction writer. She homeschools her six children and lives in the small town of Milton-Freewater, Oregon.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Howard Books (January 14, 2014)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781476777009

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Raves and Reviews

Jane Austen and Southern romance fans alike will enjoy this sweet echo of the Regency classic. The story is adorably funny in its Shakespearean comedy of errors as Caroline and Brooks continually misunderstand each other and their romantic feelings…Their first kiss is well worth waiting for—for readers as much as the made-for-each-other couple.

– Romantic Times (four and a half stars)

“I loved watching them slowly fall in love and rarely do I comment on such a thing, but the kiss in this book was awesome. I had to go back and read that thing again.”

– Remain in His Love Review

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