Posts Tagged ‘Lori Smith’

I became acquainted with Lori Smith when she wrote her first book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Our association has continued with her new book, The Jane Austen Guide to Life. (Read my review here.) Please welcome Lori as I talk to her about her most recent writing experience. I hope to meet her, as well as many other Janeites, at the JASNA meeting in New York this fall:

Hi Lori! What were your reasons for writing this book as your follow up to A Walk With Jane Austen?

You know, I didn’t expect to write another Jane Austen book, so this book, which was actually my editor’s idea initially, came as a great gift and a surprise. It covers some of the same material as A Walk with Jane, but from a completely different viewpoint. While A Walk with Jane was so deeply personal and so much about my journey, this book steps back and looks at how Austen would advise women today if she could. I took everything we know about her life and all the wonderful stories she gave us, and tried to ferret out how she might guide us today.

Why will people regard the advice on romance and life from a 19th c. country spinster?

For those already members of the cult of Austen, this isn’t a tough sell, but I’m sure it will be for some. I mean, really, a woman who lived two hundred years ago, who wouldn’t understand modern dating, tweeting, texting—can she really have helpful advice?

But the thing is, we adore Austen for her lovely stories. She understood people, what motivated them, their faults and foibles. As one reviewer commented on Sense and Sensibility, she had “a great deal of good sense.” Her good sense is so welcome today, and still so useful. The issues she dealt with—fame, money, heartbreak—are the same ones we face today. I think she can help us bring back some of the graciousness of the time she lived in, help us imbue our own lives with grace and good sense.

What about today’s society would scandalize Jane Austen the most?

I’m sure it would be sex. There was plenty of raunchy behavior in Austen’s era, but it wasn’t on display the way it is now, in movies, TV shows, magazines. And it’s become so very casual. I don’t think she would know what to make of that.

What changes would she like most?

Well, she wrote in one letter about not knowing what to do about a new gown, and said “I wish such things were to be bought ready made.” (In Austen’s day, you had to buy fabric and then work with a dress-maker.) So I think she would love how easy and affordable fashion has become. (Not that she cared overly much about fashion.)

But I think she would be happiest that singleness has become a viable option for women, that women can work and earn their own keep and don’t have to be dependent on family or have to marry to survive. I think that would thrill her. She herself never married, and even with the income from her writing, was financially dependent upon her brothers.

On a personal level what advice from Jane meant most to you, and why?

This time around I really appreciated her perspective on the need to be thoughtful about romance—two concepts that don’t always go together in our world. And as someone who has lived with chronic Lyme disease for more than a decade, her own journey through a lengthy and mysterious disease touched me.

But every time I come back to Austen, more than anything else, I’m astounded by her joy. She celebrated the world, relished in it, brought so much energy to it. She laughed as much as possible, I’m sure, but her joy was deep as well, loved a quiet evening by the fire or sitting and watching the flow of the tide. If I could take one thing from Austen, it would be that joy and effervescence.


As a child, Lori Smith’s mother had to pay her to read books. So it’s a bit ironic that she now gets paid to write them. Lori feels connections to Austen on many levels—as a writer, a single woman, an Anglican, and as someone struggling with a mysterious chronic illness. For her last book, A Walk with Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love, and Faith, Lori spent a month in England tracing Austen’s life and works. Readers voted to give that book the Jane Austen Regency World Award for best nonfiction.

Her writing has also appeared in Washington Post Book World, Publishers Weekly, Beliefnet.com, Skirt!, and Today’s Christian Woman. Lori lives in Northern Virginia with her sweet but stubborn English lab, Bess.

Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XVYt-QOJWO8
Blogs: http://www.writerlorismith.com, http://www.austenquotes.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/writerlorismith
Twitter: @writerlorismith

Read Full Post »

The contest is open until May 15th. You have two chances of winning this book by leaving a comment. Click on image to enter.

Nearly 200 years after her death, Jane Austen is more popular than ever with publishers and readers. Many of her fans are attracted to her era, which they identify as one filled with grace, gentility, and good manners. In The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, author Lori Smith examines Jane Austen’s novels, letters, and life for insights that can help guide today’s woman through life’s passages. There is much good material to digest.

The most important thing is family. Jane was blessed with a large, supportive tribe. They encouraged her talents, reveling in her tales, giving her time to write, and enjoying her books as she was writing them. With much love and support she was able to pursue and develop her talent in an age when such a career was not easily open to women. When she began to write as a girl, Jane had no idea that she would ever make money from her talent, much less find the time to pursue her career.  Some lessons to extract from her persistence in writing are: Do what you would be willing to be poor for; temper your expectations; and share your gifts with the world.  Lucky for us Jane never gave up and weathered the dry giving for posterity six incomparable novels.

Lori Smith’s Guide moves from the essential to the romantic. Let me explain. It is hard to find true love if you don’t know what you want. So, Jane’s advice via Lori is: Be accepting of yourself. Be self-aware. And be sensible. If you’re never satisfied with yourself, then you can’t please others. It’s an axiom that Jane and her heroines followed:

Not only do Austen’s characters find love, they find themselves, and they improve themselves. They see their faults in ways they haven’t before. They realize what kinds of things they are capable of — and that at times they are capable of doing things badly — and this awareness spurs them to change.

Regarding romance, once a woman is open to changing her mind, she is receptive to so many possibilities – of the fact that she was wrong, of opening her eyes to others, of finding the right man. In Jane Austen’s era, a sense of community and belonging helped to guide a woman in the right direction. Jane’s characters (and the author herself) lived in a small, connected society, where friends and relatives knew many details about each other. This situation no longer exists for many of us today:

I think [Jane’s] greatest advice to us would be to keep our eyes open and watch carefully, to not commit too quickly before we really understand a guy’s character.

Spoken like our wise mothers. The Guide continues to cover such topics as saving and spending, gratitude and enduring hardships. In the end, Jane shows us to live life to the fullest and to enjoy every moment. She was capable of making fun of herself and laugh even when things were not going her way.

Even the smaller things, that for most of us would only annoy us and lead to complaint, Jane approached with humor. She told Cassandra, “I will not say that your Mulberry trees are dead, but I am afraid they are not alive.”

In the end, no one can live our lives but ourselves. We can only follow our inner guide and the principles we have chosen to live by.

Lori Smith’s  The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman continues to inform us about our lives through the lessons that Jane Austen and her characters can teach us. Like her first book. A Walk with Jane Austen, Lori’s clear writing style is a delight to read. One can almost hear Jane speaking through her words. This book is a wonderful gift for mother’s day, for mothers to give to their daughters, and for men to understand the mind of a fine woman. It is also delightfully illustrated.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 regency tea cups.

Book Giveaway: To enter the book giveaway, click on this link. Contest is open until May 15th. Sadly, only those living in the US and Canada are eligible. Please leave a way to contact you in your comment.

Order the book in both hard cover and eBook format:

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: skirt! (May 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0762773812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0762773817

Read Full Post »

Juliette Wells (L) and Christine Stewart (R)

Gentle Readers: Chris Stewart has contributed her recent thoughts to my blog. She has Embarked on A Course of Study regarding Jane Austen, a most fascinating journey that has her interviewing Janeites, dancing country dances, studying Jane Austen’s life and novels, and interviewing Jane Austen Scholars like Juliette Wells. Here then is Christine’s most recent contribution:

(A post in which I complain about everything I’m reading.)

Sometimes I really love my job. And sometimes it sucks the life out of my life. Between it and the fact that more furloughs are on the way so I’ve decided to rent out my house, move in with my sister, and save money (travel to the UK is also on the agenda), my focus has been elsewhere. There’s work to do on the house, documents to file with the property manager, packing. I just haven’t felt like reading anything taxing. I wanted book candy, so I reread Shannon Hales’ Austenland. Which is just as fabulous as I remember. See? I am committed – even my fluff reading is Austen-related.

So back to why I love my job. Stick with me, I do have sort of a theme going here. I’m the program director for literary arts with my state’s arts council and that meant, last month, I was able to make a site visit to Frederick to hear Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) speak. It was hosted by an organization that may apply for funding and I needed to attend an event, get a feel for what type of events they present, what type of audience attends, etc.

Before I go further, let me say that I think I’m the only person on the planet who didn’t fall for Eat, Pray, Love. It was just too ‘precious’ a story and didn’t have enough grit. It was all just too perfect for me. And the book/trip was planned. It didn’t just happen. That takes the magic out of it.

It made me think that maybe the pilgrimage thing is now officially ‘done.’ I mean, there’s EG’s book, and there’s Lori Smith’s book, A Walk With Jane Austen. Thankfully, though, after reading Lori smith’s book, I realize it’s not ‘done’ when it comes to Austen.

I really wanted to like the book. Lori and I see things similarly sometimes; I often found myself thinking she was going to say something and she then said it. I think that’s good. Or it might be predictable. I can’t decide. I was leaning on the side of trying to connect with her as a good reader should.

But there’s very little joy in the book. Most of it is either about God (there’s A LOT of Christianity in this book), or regurgitating Jane Austen info that we can find anywhere, or dissecting a non-existent relationship with a guy named Jack, that she meets at the start of the trip. None of these are positive musings, except the Jane part, as we love Jane, but I would have preferred less rehashing of known info.

And there’s very little in the way of a sense of humor in this book – a ‘make the best of it, find the humor in it’ mentality. I mean, she’s in freakin’ England visiting Austen sites. What is there not to be happy about??? She has an ongoing illness, which I am sorry about, but if it was going to drag her down as much as it does physically, mentally, emotionally (and us with her), then maybe she shouldn’t have gone.

Tina Fey

She also makes a huge error in judgment in the beginning of the book with a man she meets, inexcusable in one who is supposedly so well versed in Austen’s novels, which I go into more detail about in my post.

I don’t really have a connection to Tina Fey here, except that she strikes me as a 21st century Austen in her medium – television. She’s the edgy, sarcastic, funny, sometimes bitter side of all of us. As Elizabeth Gilbert is the open, loving, spiritual, innocent side. I think we should do justice to both. Plus, my best friend swears Tina Fey reminds her of me. I’m taking that as a compliment.

Evelina by Frances Burney

I haven’t just been completely idle; I have started Evelina by Fanny Burney and have decided two things.

You’ll have to go to the website to find out what they are: Embarking on a Course of Study

More Posts on the Topic

Read Full Post »

Lori Smith’s book, A Walk With Jane Austen: A Journey into Adventure, Love & Faith is available for purchase today. I have been savoring this book all summer, and reluctantly read the last pages last night while sitting in my favorite spot at a local restaurant. After reading such a personal account, it is easy to assume that one has met Lori and had a long conversation with her.

Part 3 of the book begins with a visit to beautiful Winchester Cathedral, where Jane is buried, and a description of her last illness. Lori addresses the topic of death head on with trepidation, fearlessness, and faith.

To my surprise, she disliked Lyme, which I have always wanted to visit, but attributed much of her terrible experience to her seedy hotel. She then visited Exeter, Sense and Sensibility country, and Lyme Park, Colin Firth’s Pemberley. Few signs remain that the movie was filmed there ten years before, although once upon a time visitors could take a little tour showing the significant spots in the movie.

I must confess I liked part three of the book most, for Lori recounts so much of Jane’s life and her novels in these final pages. During her visit to Chatworth, the lush mansion where Matthew Macfadyen snogs Keira Knightly, as Lori so delightfully puts it, she views a set of breathtaking china that belonged to Warren Hastings, a widower who sent his young son to live with Jane’s family in Steventon, and where the boy sadly died. Lori then recounts the story of Philadelphia Austen, Jane’s intrepid aunt, who went to India to find a husband in Tysoe Hancock, and who gave birth to Elizabeth, Jane’s niece. The story is complicated as Lori describes it, but is well worth investigating on one’s own.

After visiting Stoneleigh Abbey, the mansion belonging to Jane’s mother’s family, Lori goes full circle, returning to Oxford to spend her final days in England before returning home. Back in America she ties up a few loose ends, which I will not reveal, except to say that I loved this book. In fact, I suspect if Jane Austen were able to read it, she would give it her seal of approval. I’ll end my series of reviews of Lori Smith’s book with her own words:

And this is the paradox, because this life – this loving your family and friends and doing good work and telling good stories – may feel small, but it is far from ordinary.

It is the best life, the extraordinary life.

It was Jane’s, and I hope it will be mine.

Image from A Walk Round Winchester Cathedral

Click here to read all my reviews of this book.

Read Full Post »

Inquiring Reader,

As you know, I have been reading Lori Smith’s book, Following Jane Austen: A Journey of Adventure, Love, and Faith, with great interest. Two reviews already sit in my archives, and a third one is coming. Each review reflects my thoughts on the three sections in which the book is divided. Lori kindly agreed to be interviewed as well, answering my ten questions with such speed that I am able to post them just as her book becomes publicly available!

1. You wrote so much about your life, intertwining it with Jane’s in the book. How close did you feel to Jane during your journey? Care to share a special memory that was not included in the book?
I felt so close to Jane during the trip. I felt a kinship with her already, which made me want to go, but to be studying her life and following in her footsteps, to be where she lived and walked and prayed — it was wonderful. I think I included pretty much everything in the book! But one of my favorite days was walking in the fields around Steventon, nearly getting lost, knowing that things must look something like they did when Jane was there, and then finally (because Phil and Sue Howe of Hidden Britain Tours helped me) being able to get to see the inside of Steventon church.
2. I believe you mentioned discovering Jane Austen in college. Which of her novels are your favorites, and why?

I love Pride and Prejudice — the first one I read. (Doesn’t everyone??) But Persuasion is also a favorite. I love Anne, and it’s a quieter and more reflective story, coming from an older Austen. Actually, depending on the day you ask me, my favorite changes.

3. Writing is a tough profession and not for the faint-hearted. What made you go for the “gusto” and pursue a career in this field?

I had been freelancing on the side for about five years, and had published one book (The Single Truth). I was traveling to do some speaking in support of that, and had tons of writing ideas I wanted to pursue. Eventually it got to the point that I couldn’t continue to work all day and write at night and on the weekends — I just didn’t have the energy. So I decided to go for it, for at least a year. (Being miserable in my job probably helped tip the scales.) That was two and a half years ago. Financially, it’s incredibly difficult, and I kind of wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I love it, though, and it was one of those things I knew I had to try.

4. It isn’t easy to just get up and go on a long journey. You mentioned a period of transition in your life, including questioning where you were heading spiritually and quitting your job. Did you feel a sense of adventure as you embarked on this quest? Or were you afraid, and had no choice but to forge on?
It was all those things. I was terrified and thrilled. I could easily have not done it, have decided it was too much to attempt, but I hate to think of my fears holding me back, so I went. I had been struggling with depression, and I think in some ways that helped to push me. I wanted to reinvent things and forge a new life — begin to live again. In terms of adventures, this one was fairly tame, but for me it required some bravery and a willingness to push myself a bit outside my comfort zone.

5. You spoke about taking along a backpack. Did this include a laptop, or did you jot down notes? How did you schedule a typical “workday?” Did you email back chapters for someone to proof read as you went along? Or did you write down your recollections after you returned?

I expected to have time to write on the trip, but didn’t really. If I had it to do over again, I might make the trip a bit longer so I could write more, but money was tight, and a month felt extravagant already. I took a notebook with me and wrote detailed notes about every day–on the train, in the evenings, over tea. (It’s now one of my most treasured possessions!) I had a little word processor, and did some writing on that, but not too much. Some of this writing made it almost directly into the book, but most of it was unpublishable — a simple record of what happened and what I was feeling.

Actually, the reason I kept such detailed notes was because of a rejection I’d recently received from The Washington Post Magazine. I was doing a piece for them about a beach trip, but because I hadn’t kept a journal, it didn’t have enough emotional immediacy. The editor was kind enough to give me that feedback (often a rejection letter offers no explanations), so I decided on this trip I needed to keep a notebook and keep track of things. I wish I could thank that editor in person! (She’s since moved on, I’m not sure where.) Without that rejection, I’m not sure this book would ever have come to be.

6. Which came first? The book contract or the book? Did you pitch the idea before you went on your journey, or did you have faith that the book would find an interested publisher?

I hoped the trip would turn into a book, but I had no idea and tried hard to view the trip just as a time to explore, so that it could be a success regardless of what came out of it. Had I been a more established writer, I could probably have gotten a contract prior to traveling, but that wasn’t the case. And I wasn’t quite sure what I would find or if I’d really have enough material. I did the trip in July of ’05, and we actually didn’t pitch the book until March of ’06. It took me a while to get enough together for a proposal and figure out how to structure it. After that things went fairly quickly for the publishing world. So, it’s been a two-year process.

7. Have you kept in touch with the people you encountered during your trip?

Not so much. There are a few I hear from from time to time, and there are several I’ll definitely see again if I go back to England.

8. You oversee two blogs, own a house, actively pursue a demanding career, and are about to embark on a whirlwind series of publicity appearances. How do you find time for self-renewal, or a quiet series of moments to write?
I hope there’s a whirlwind of publicity! (Every writer’s dream!) For me I find that writing goes in phases. I love the marketing/publicity phase almost as much as the quiet of writing, and I have a hard time doing both at the same time. Living by myself still gives me a lot of quiet time, but I feel like I need to do a better job of finding space to write, pray, and just be, in the midst of the marketing craziness.

9. On your journey, did you glean any wonderful insights about Jane that are not in your book?
As I reread her books after coming home, I realized that there’s actually a lot of grace in Austen’s writing — the idea that we all fail miserably (to whatever degree) and generally are incredibly blessed (whatever form those blessings take). I think there’s a direct correlation there to what Jane felt about her own life. She knew her failures, and she knew (regardless of financial struggles or the fact that she didn’t marry) that she was really rich. She had nothing to do, but like Catherine in NA, “Forgive herself and be happier than ever.” That’s comforting to me.

10. Any other special memories?

I think that’s it… I hope readers can relate to it, and that it will inspire a few to take Austen pilgrimages of their own.

Thank you for answering my questions, Lori. I cannot tell you how much I am enjoying your book. (Yes, I still have to finish Part III, and will post the last of my thoughts just as your book becomes widely available this week).

Lori’s photos of her trip (in the order shown):

  1. Magdalene College, view of the bell tower
  2. Lori’s favorite spot at the bay window, Alton Abbey common room
  3. Chatsworth
  4. Fields around Steventon (actually, this one is between Ashe and Deane)

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »

%d bloggers like this: