Thursday, April 25, 2013

Turning Travel into a Novel - Visiting Jane Austen

Guest Post from Scott Southard, author of the upcoming A Jane Austen Daydream, to be released April 30,

All her heroines find love in the end–but is there love waiting for Jane?

Jane Austen spends her days writing and matchmaking in the small countryside village of Steventon, until a ball at Godmersham Park propels her into a new world where she yearns for a romance of her own. But whether her heart will settle on a young lawyer, a clever Reverend, a wealthy childhood friend, or a mysterious stranger is anyone’s guess.
Written in the style of Jane herself, this novel ponders the question faced by many devoted readers over the years–did she ever find love? Weaving fact with fiction, it re-imagines her life, using her own stories to fill in the gaps left by history and showing that all of us–to a greater or lesser degree–are head over heels for Jane.

I went to England to find Jane Austen.

To be honest, I also went to find Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Elliot, John Keats, William Shakespeare (or whoever wrote his plays), J.R.R. Tolkien, and Winnie-the-Pooh.

Winnie-the-Pooh? Yeah, with some research, I figured out where the real 100-Acre Woods is located and spent a day wandering the fields, visiting Roo’s Sandy Place, sitting at the Enchanted Place, finding the north pole, playing poohstick on the actual poohstick bridge. As a kid who has fond memories growing up with A.A. Milne’s classic books, I was in children literature heaven. It is a magical and natural place, please don’t tell Disney!

That was me at age 23, Scott the explorer, the new college grad, future “bestselling” author (in my mind), chasing down the legends, my heroes. I’m not sure what lofty goals I had, per se, in making the six-week solo trip to England. I mean, I wasn’t expecting any “haunting” encounters or secret treasures to discover, but it was a voyage I needed to take. I needed to escape the confines of my small West Michigan world, and chase down the locations that made my heroes… well… heroes.
At this point in the creation of A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM I had the seed of the idea, but whenever I sat down to make an outline of a plot I would get muddled. See, I couldn’t put my finger completely on Jane as a character.

That’s one of the funny things about Jane as a writer. When you read her books, you can feel her alongside you, laughing with you, leading you down the path of her narrative, but when you have to define her as an actual person things get complicated. Her heroines have so many different traits; Emma is very different from the Bennet sisters, etc. She is so good at characterization you have to wonder if any of her “real life” experience or traits inhabit any of her characters.

Most scholars will argue that writers grow from book to book, so could an argument be made that she is more like Catherine Morland from NORTHANGER ABBEY than her others?

No, I can’t see it.

I can’t imagine a character like Catherine (even with her wild imagination and love of books) creating novels. Some Austenites would point to Anne Elliot from PERSUASION for being the most like her (maybe the book is playing out a fantasy she had about a returning love?), but that would be a much later creation when her skills were at the strongest. Would it be near the end of her career that she would really allow herself to slip in? With someone with her literary skills it feels like a moment of weakness.

So in many ways this first trip to England (with nothing but a full backpack and a paperback showing famous literary locations), was a test for A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAMThe possibility of this novel becoming a reality rested on this outing.

Chawton House - Jane Austen's final home.

The first place I went around Jane Austen was the Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton. This is where Jane spent the last years of her life. It is where some of her classics first took breath and where many of her works were fine tuned.

Chawton is a small village and not at all easy to find. I had to take a train trip and then walk to the village. Once arriving, it is very charming and I can see why fans of her novels love visiting the city. It feels like one of her novels could take place on those streets, in those gardens, in those fields… yet, something felt off to me.

Jane’s actual house, which is the museum now, was a modest home even in that time period. Since Jane’s living there, there have been some structural changes to it. Yet, it is still easy to imagine her wandering those halls, sitting in that garden. And as I walked through the little building I took many pictures. Pictures I knew that I would return to later if I was able to find the key to her character. Still, in each little room, my feeling of discomfort was growing. Yes, as I visited each room, the feeling increased until I had to leave and sit in the garden, get a breath of fresh air.

It was then, looking around me, watching other visitors come and go, that the feeling that had been haunting me so prevalently became clear…

Jane Austen had one of the great minds of her century, easily one of the greatest minds in literature. So how could someone with her capacity be happy in a small house, in a small village like this?

That is not to say she didn’t enjoy her family’s company or her friends in the village. I’m sure most days she must been happy with the arrangment…. But my gut was telling me that quiet day that on many days she felt utterly trapped, stuck in a world she couldn’t escape from. I’m not going to compare it to a prison. But consider what the life of someone with Jane’s ability would be like today, and then think of a person like that living in such a small environment with little resources, and little capability for growth because of her gender.

You see what I mean?

Then add in the fact that her books were anonymous. She had no writing friends, no one she could talk to really about her favorite artform, her passion.
Trapped, lonely, misunderstood.

This may sound bleak, but it is this realization into what her life might have been like that made me feel like A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM could be possible.

Austen's Chawton house from the garden.

See, at the time (and even very much so today), I’m a struggling author, trying to find an audience, dreaming of possible literary success. I can relate to that feeling, that desire. I can also relate to the feeling of being isolated, not feeling like others around me “get me” or even sometimes understand why I care about literature and books so much. For many, books are just books. For me, they are a lifestyle, as important as breathe.

No wonder Jane did so much during her eight years in this home. It was her only escape, her only way to be herself fully.

Writing was life and it was all she had.

I would go on after that trip to also visit the Jane Austen Centre in Bath (they interviewed me about the book which you can read here) which definitely is a wonderful tribute to her, and even the cathedral where she is buried.

I hope no one feels that I am criticizing the Jane Austen’s House Museum. No, I love the place. And, if A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM is successful I plan to make a donation to it. See, it could be argued that it did exactly what it needed to do for me. It gave me an insight into Jane and her life.

That visit made Jane real.

Scott D. Southard is the author of the new book A JANE AUSTEN DAYDREAM. It was released by Madison Street Publishing and is available exclusively via in both print and eBook. Scott also has his own blog “The Musings & Artful Blunders of Scott D. Southard” where he writes on a collection of different topics from writing to art to writing to parenting to TV to movies to music to writing to life to writing. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Novel Traveling for the Budget Conscious

Novel Traveling is all about the adventure; it’s about the mysterious and beautiful places (and characters) you meet along the way. Exotic places, far away things which simply don’t exist in our everyday lives. It’s this break from the mundane which can inspire creativity in us.

So then how does a writer on a budget travel to these places? Google Image Search can really only get you so far. Sometimes, you just need some firsthand experience that only visiting a place can give you.

Well fear not, for there is a way to gain this experience without spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars traveling to some foreign, exotic place. I call it: Backyard Traveling.

Allow me to explain. I live in Los Angeles.

LA is one of the biggest cities in the US. Culturally diverse, yes, but somewhat lacking in landscape other than “crowded city.” But for those willing to research a little, there exists places to go which, while perhaps not as fancy as Bali, are very different from what I see everyday.

Though even if you live in Bali, Backyard Traveling is an option. The capital of Bali is Denpasar, a city not unlike Los Angeles. Outside of Denpasar are the more remote regions that tourists rarely travel to. Regions like Singharaja, where beats the artistic heart of Bali. So in a way, no matter where you live in the world, Backyard Traveling is always an option.

To accomplish Backyard Traveling, you need a few things:

1. A place to visit, somewhere local yet out of the ordinary. 
( for your city.)

2. A local, someone who knows the area and is willing to help you out. 
(A friend, or check our list of location experts under "For Writers.")

3. A list of things to do during your travels.

Not a very long list, which is what makes this so easy. I took a Backyard trip recently, so here’s my checklist.

1. Catalina Island, one of the channel islands off the coast of Los Angeles.

2. I’ve been blessed to come to know a woman, Amy Keating-Rogers, who supplied me with knowledge of the island.

3. Mrs. Keating-Rogers also supplied me with a guide to the island that she wrote. The Internet is also a valuable tool.

So now that you have completed your checklist, all that’s left is to pick a date and head out.

What makes Backyard Traveling good for the aspiring Novel Travelist? 

Surely if you want to send your characters on an adventure in the artistic heart of Bali, then what does a little island in the US have to do with that?

The answer is a lot. Catalina Island, despite being only 27 miles from Los Angeles, is vastly different.

It’s a change in scenery, a new adventure, something to kick start inspiration. Then you can consult a fellow Novel Travelist, like Michelle Em (Under "For Writers"), who lived in Bali for further details.

Stuck on what to do next? Use your travels to inspire something. Perhaps wander around somewhere. Need a new location? Relocating yourself can often help you dream up somewhere new to throw your characters. Need a new character? Surrounding yourself with new people helps. Someone you meet can inspire you to make your best character yet.

All in all, a Backyard Trip can be just the thing to either inspire a new story, or help you out of a rut in your current one.  It’s cheap and easy, so even the Novel Travelist on a budget can head somewhere and have a real life adventure.

Credit for the information on Bali goes to: Michele Em, a Novel Travelist location expert listed under “For Writers.”

Friday, April 19, 2013

Unconventional Meet-Cute Site: Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

Are your characters heading down to Southeast Asia for quest or a vacation? Specifically Thailand? Have them visit the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market in Bangkok. Although there are still many floating markets in the country, it is not uncommon to see a merchant paddling down the river selling fruits and vegetables. However, Damnoen Saduak is the most famous floating market in Thailand.

The first time I visited the Damnoen Saduak Floating market, I was very young and the market felt huge to me. It was a lively place full of color and people. At the floating market, you would see vendors sitting in boats paddling down the river selling fruits, vegetables, and flowers along with souvenirs. There are even boats barbecuing skewers of pork. Alongside these vendor boats you will also find tourist rowing down the river experiencing the market front and center.

In my second visit to the floating market, the market felt much smaller than I
remembered. But the crowded waterway filled with row boats and tourist a very much like the pictures found on travel brochures. Although the main market was not like I remembered years ago, I found this experience more fun since my tour guide took us around the “backway” which involved taking a long-tail boat through the neighborhood. This boat ride was different since you actually get to see houses on the riverfront and seeing how to locals live by and off the river. I might have even spotted a local doing their laundry in the river. 

A row of long-tail motor boats.

Having a meet-cute in this scenario maybe a bit more difficult, but I think it would be fun to have your characters get their feet wet. You can decide if you want it to be metaphorically or literally.

  • Your main character is a photographer or explorer riding a long-tail boat and catches the eye of another person on another speeding long-tail.  
  • A character is admiring the fresh fruits from a floating vendor and happens to pick the same pineapple as another, and the vendor mistakes the pair as a couple when in fact they are two strangers.
  • A tourist exploring the floating market is trying to take a “selfie” of the bustling market and a kind handsome/beautiful stranger offers to help.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Cappadocia - Day 1

Day 1 in Cappadocia.

Although I wrote about traveling alone in my last blog, I'm writing about travel in Cappadocia with my friend who I met in Malta and she is also from Osaka, Japan.

Cappadocia is located in the middle of Turkey.

Map of Turkey - Valley of the Fairy Chimneys is the Cappadocia area.

Its unique land formation is a result of volcanic eruptions, with Mt. Erciyes being the highest peak in the area. Ash and lava created the large plateau, erosion of rain and wind over thousands of years caused the strange, unique rocks we find today.

In the 2nd century B.C, Christians escaped from the Roman Empire and made cave houses and underground cities in Cappadocia.

I’ll skip the history, but it’s really interesting. See here:

We arrived to Nevsehir in the early morning and tried to find our free shuttle to Goreme. Each bus company has free shuttles, but finding it is not so easy. We got off the bus and a man said he was from our bus company and the shuttle hadn't came yet so we waited inside.

I doubted if he was official staff from our bus company, but we were too sleepy and tired for good judgement and we just followed him.

That was a misjudgement.

We were waiting for a long, long time but nobody came. We asked him when the shuttle comes and he just said “Soon.” Suddenly, I remembered there are people who claim to be bus staff and then put you on their tour bus, where later you have to pay.

So we went out and found a shuttle, any shuttle, and got on. But it was a different company’s shuttle. The conductor checked our tickets and said it was “Invalid.” He asked, “Where are you going?”


“This ticket is not for this company.”

He went to report us to the driver. During the wait, we were scared and worried that they might stop and throw us off the bus. Finally he came back and said, “We bring you to Goreme.”


Within one morning, I’d resolved to hate Turkish men, but I discovered there are good guys too. 

At last we got to Goreme.

We stayed in the Traveller's Cave Hotel (
), which is the best hotel in my backpacker's life. It was on top of the hill so we got a super view and there was a terrace with comfy sofas. 

We had breakfast at the hotel and the owner told us there is a fresh market down the hill. But after a 10 hour bus ride, we weren't in the mood to explore, but we couldn’t check-in yet, so we took a nap on the comfy sofas. Then we planned to visit the fresh market after a short nap.

And the next moment we heard unbelievable words...

"Wake UP! Time for check-in!"

Goodness! We slept for 2 hours!

We gladly checked-in, and oh my goodness, our room was fabulous. It was actually a Cave. It held a pretty fireplace, table, chairs and a beautiful view out the front door.

When we prepared to go out, somebody knocked on our door. A Korean girl we met at breakfast and on the shuttle gave us fresh berries from the market because she knew we slept through the market.

First we went to Goreme Open Air Museum. 
Goreme is known as a monasterial place in 10
12th century and there are over 10 cave churches in the Goreme Open Air Museum and over 30 in Goreme.

At the museum, we walked around the churches. I just couldn't believe they were made by manpower. There was no electronic drill at that time but every room has beautiful curves and even tables and benches are also cut from rocks.

In the cave churches are beautiful frescos. Because the cave environment provides such excellent preservation, the fresco colors are still beautiful and vivid.

To close our first day we joined the sunset tour in Rose Valley with the Korean girl. Rose Valley gets its name from Rose-colored rock. The valley is shaped like streaming curtains, beautiful drapery, and I can see the many layers that natures power has produced over millions of years.

The sunset was just fabulous, changing from orange to pink. It was a pink I've never seen before and the colors changed as the sun went down. No language holds a word for a sunset that fills one’s soul. I propose "Cappadocal." 

This is Day 1 in Cappadocia.

Character Notes:

If you are sending a character to Cappadocia, you can disrupt her happy intentions by putting her on a paid tour shuttle, or have her get kicked off the bus to Goreme and left on the road side in the middle of no where Turkey.

If your character has no hotel, she can criminally sleep on a Cappadocia balcony lounge. They are not to difficult to climb up to and the sofas are fabulous.

A chase scene through the Open Air Museum, with all the caves, churches and places to hide, would be great fun.

As the sun sets, your character, no matter how terrible her day might be, she can pause and have a Cappadocal moment.  

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Buried Books of Herculaneum: Part 3

Philip V and Elisabetta Farese in 1743
When the booty was gone, they filled in the holes, and with no interests whatsoever in art, no such field as archeology and no apparent concept of historical preservation, there were no real records of the find.  The story might have stopped right there, had it not been for a succession of women as ambitious as Cleopatra herself...

Part 2 of this series begins the story of the excavations of Herculaneum, as we seek to unravel the answer to the Novel Travelist mystery: Why was the Villa dei Papyri never fully excavated?

Here we continue this story.


Twenty-five years after d’Elboeuf abandoned the site, two factors converged to revive the excavations of Herculaneum.  The first was the ascension of a new reigning king of Naples – or rather, the true monarch - his mother.

In 1734, Naples fell under control of the “Spanish” royal dynasty controlling the Kingdom of Two Sicilies, of which neither king nor queen was actually Spanish or Sicilian.  Philip V was the French grandson of Louis XIV and was raised at the court of Versailles with aspirations of the French crown.  Instead, he was granted the lesser Spanish one.  Throughout his nominal reign, Philip suffered from a severe depression that left him categorically incapacitated most of the time.  And so his kingdom was managed by the queen.

Philip’s wife Queen Elisabetta was an Italian princess descended from the Medici dukes of Florence and the Farnese dukes of Lombardy.  On the day she rode into Madrid to marry Philip, she was greeted by Philip’s official mistress, whom Elisabetta ordered arrested and deported on the spot.  This set the tone for their marriage.

Elisabetta instated the first born son from her marriage with Philip upon the throne of Naples as the new King of Campania.  The prince was eighteen-year-old Charles.  While Charles nominally ruled the kingdom, it was his mother, Italian-born Medici Queen Elisabetta who became determined to convert the run-down, poverty- and disease-infested cesspool that was Naples into “the Florence of the South.”  And this she did, funding her ambitious endeavors by taxing the Catholic Church on its land.  As the Church was the largest landholder in Campania, tax revenues tripled.

San Carlo Opera House, Naples, 1737
Elisabetta used the newly acquired funds to build three new palaces, a royal opera house, a prison, hospices, a cemetery and a number of factories.  The palaces were intended for museums as well as for royal residences; she also set the course to transfer a vast number of pieces from the priceless Farnese collection into Naples.

At the same time, she ordered that the neglected Herculaneum excavations be resumed in hopes of finding further additions.

Under the official direction of Charles and the unofficial direction of Elisabetta, the vast cities of Herculaneum and the recently discovered Pompeii were systematically plundered.  The efforts were led by a Spanish artillery engineer, Captain Rocque Joachim Alcubierre, whose sole mission was to find everything of monetary value and pluck it from the earth.  As he exhausted one source of the buried treasure, he would delve unthinkingly into the next, backfilling each prior section with dirt from the new one.

It was under Alcubierre that the Villa dei Papiri was discovered.

Raimondo di Sangro, Prince of Sansevero and friend of King Charles, became the first to attempt opening the papyrus scrolls as they emerged from within the villa.  A self-proclaimed "gifted" and "extraordinary" alchemist, di Sangro used mercury in an effort to soften the charred, brittle papyrus.  The mercury dissolved the scrolls, and many of them were lost.

To be continued in part 4, May 9...

This blog post explores a non-fictional theme or locale that is incorporated in The Vesuvius Isotope, a new novel by Kristen Elise. Buy The Vesuvius Isotope on Amazon.

When her Nobel laureate husband is murdered, biologist Katrina Stone can no longer ignore the secrecy that increasingly pervaded his behavior in recent weeks. Her search for answers leads to a two-thousand-year-old medical mystery and the esoteric life of one of history’s most enigmatic women. Following the trail forged by her late husband, Katrina must separate truth from legend as she chases medicine from ancient Italy and Egypt to a clandestine modern-day war. Her quest will reveal a legacy of greed and murder and resurrect an ancient plague, introducing it into the twenty-first century.

Kristen Elise, Ph.D. is a drug discovery biologist and the author of The Vesuvius Isotope. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband, stepson, and three canine children. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How a Museum Lecture Becomes a Novel

Getty Center, Los Angeles, home to many inspiring and lectures.

When is an artpiece considered “Stolen?” 

Inspiration for a novel from a museum lecture. 

Stolen art can create a deep-seeded, complex conflict between families, institutions and dealers. It’s a great set-up or sub-plot for a novel.

When is a piece of art considered “Stolen?” This is an important question for any museum purchasing art and particularly of interest to that museum’s provenance hunter who must determine the pedigree of the art piece. A provenance hunter, aka: Art Detective, can be an excellent, sexy, intellectual character. 

What is Provenance? 
It’s the history of ownership of anything, but usually the term applies to art. If a piece of artwork is stolen, say by Nazis in WWII, then it’s not really owned by the museum or the auctioneer, but instead by the family, gallery or museum it was stolen from. 

I recently attended a lecture at the Getty Center on Feb. 28 by a provenance expert, Victoria Reed, from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. (Details in Events Section.) Victoria Reed is an Art Detective and she was kind enough to entertain a packed auditorium with some of her unique provenance cases regarding art purchased after WWII.

A church filled with stolen art from Jewish families during WWII.

I’m working on a book that takes place in Amsterdam, but involves the provenance of a Titian painting which is being claimed by two different families. A Venetian family originally commissioned and owned the Titian painting, but was forced to sell it to a Dutch Jewish gallery in order to avoid it being pillaged by Napoleon’s armies. In 1936, the Nazis shut down all Jewish businesses and the Dutch Jewish Titian owner was forced to sell the painting on the black market in order to survive. The original Venetian family purchased the Titian painting on the black market. 

The conflict: Both families claim they own the Titian painting which is worth upwards of $12 million.

Adding to the conflict is that the field of provenance is still new and has few defined laws. Every situation is case by case. Victoria Reed from BMFA defined “Stolen” during WWII as a series of questions:

1. Would the sale have taken place if the Nazis were not in power? 
2. Did the owner have a choice to sell?
3. Was the owner paid money into an account that the owner controlled?

Dr. Reed then described the details of the Westfield case with regards to a 17th century Eglon van der Neer painting which BMFA purchased in 1941. Details of Painting and its provenance here:

Eglon van der Neer painting (Displayed at BMFA) once owned by the Dutch Jewish family Westfield.

The case of Westfield is remarkably similar to the Dutch Jewish family I’ve created for my novel. 

-Westfield’s gallery was closed by the Nazi’s in 1936. 
-Westfield has no source of income.
-1936-38, Westfield worked with a non-Jewish gallery owner to sell his artwork, many works are presumed to have been sold on the black market. 
-Sales from the black market are not recorded.
-1938, Westfield crosses the border into France, with artwork, illegally, and makes several sales in Paris. 
-1938, Westfield is arrested for illegal movement to Paris for sale of artwork.
-1938, Westfield is sent to Auschwitz. He dies.
-1939, German catalog of Westfield’s collection shows no listing for the Eglon van der Neer painting, so it is presumed that Westfield sold it on the black market and used the money to survive. 

Now consider the questions that define if a painting is “Stolen.”
1. The sale would not have taken place, at least not on the Black Market at a reduced rate, if the Nazis were not in power.
2. The owner did not have a choice to sell. With no other source of income, it is presumed he sold the painting for survival.
3. The owner most likely received payment for the painting and he was most likely in control of the money received. 

Is the painting considered “Stolen?” According to BMFA, yes. 

An article about the Westfield case and BMFA’s restitution to the Walter Westfield family.

What does this mean for the conflict between my Venetian family and my Dutch Jewish family?
The Venetian family suffers from a statute of limitations, which states that artworks can not be claimed as stolen after a certain period. But like the Jewish families, offers of restitution could not even be put forward until long after the thefts. So suffering families of the Napoleonic pillaging feel they can claim the same right. 

This 2003 article regarding a Venetian trial of Napoleon's actions in 1797-1804 briefly describes both positive and negative views of Venetian sentiment towards Napolean:

The Accademia Gallery of Venice

In my novel the Venetian family originally commissioned the painting from Titian, thus has a historical attachment to it. The family hunted down the painting, purchased it shortly after WWII for $80,000, a great sum for a painting at that time. (The van der Neer sold to BMFA in 1941 for $7,500) At great personal cost, the family protected the painting, insured the painting and has now donated it to the Accademia Gallery of Venice, under the contracted agreement that it stays in Venice. 

The Dutch Jewish family claims that the Titian painting, now valued at $12 million, belongs to them. And according to restitution precedence, like the Westfield case, it does belong to the Dutch Jewish family. However, the Accademia Gallery can not let it leave Venice and they can not afford the multi-million dollar restitution payment. 

To add layer to the conflict, give the two families a multi-generational history of hostility against each other, toss in an innocent American provenance hunter who is trying to remain objective and not fall in love with one of the family members, and you’ve got a pretty juicy novel. 

So become a novel travelist, attend some local lectures and see what great literary adventures your mind creates. Then start planning your next research vacation!