A New Jane Austen Mystery by Stephanie Barron

Stephanie Barron (credit Marea Evans)As a Jane Austen fan, I was happy to interview Stephanie Barron, author of 13 Jane Austen mysteries including her most recent Jane and the Waterloo Map and Jane Austen and the 12 Days of Christmas, who was in Chicago last Saturday for a book event.Jane and the Waterloo cover (1)

Jane and the Waterloo Map is set in November, 1815, four months after the Battle of Waterloo,” Barron, who started reading her books when she was 12, told me. “Jane is in London tending to her sick brother and supervising the publication of her fourth novel, Emma, when she is invited to visit the Prince Regent at Carlton House. While on a tour of the royal palace she stumbles over the body of a dying cavalry officer, a hero of Waterloo, in the Prince’s library.”

At the event which was titled “An Afternoon with Stephanie Barron,” she also talked about her previous book in this series, Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas, which takes place during the holiday in 1814—when England and the United States signed a treaty ending the War of 1812.”
Barron started her series in 1802 when Jane was 26 and in the latest she is 40, with only 18 months left to live. It’s a span of time when the Napoleonic Wars in England were taking place and Barron says her books are as much about the transitions in English society during those years as they are about Jane Austen’s life and work.

I asked her why she thinks Austen still continues to be popular some 200 years after her death.

“Part of Jane’s enduring appeal is that she understood how women think, and just as importantly, that women like to be appreciated and valued for their intelligence as much as their physical appeal,” she said. “Austen had an acute understanding of the human heart and human motivation; this allowed her to fashion complex and compelling characters, both male and female. Her perceptions remain true to human lives today—we’re still learning from her acute understanding.”


The Devil Wears Prada Author Lauren Weisberger Writes Novel About Women’s Championship Tennis

In her latest novel, The Singles Game (Simon & Schuster 2016; $26.00), Lauren Weisberger, the author of The Devil Loves Prada, tells the story of another heartless boss as we follow the attempts of Charlotte “Charlie” Silver to regain her tennis star status. Ten minutes away from playing her first match on the Centre Court at Wimbledon, Silver has to play in an untried pair of shoes after being told the pink soles of her sneakers don’t meet the championship’s stringent dress requirementThe Singles Games. On the verge of winning, Silver suffers an almost career killing Achilles’’ heel injury, undergoing surgery and a long bout of physical therapy. Willing to do almost anything to get back to the top, Silver hires Todd Feltner, a hot shot trainer known for both his ability to create champions as well as his brutal methods.

“This is what she needs to do to get ahead,” says Weisberger, describing Silver’s motives for putting herself under the influence of Feltner who introduces her to a lifestyle not only of grueling practices and humiliation for the chance of earning Grand Slam titles but also to the celebrity life of magazine cover shoots, drug-fueled private parties, charity matches on private yachts and a sort-of secret romance with the sexist male tennis star in the world.

Weisberger, who has been playing tennis—though, she says, not nearly at the level of Silver—since she was around four, interviewed tennis champions, learning all she could about the game and those who play it.

“It’s not typical of me to do so much research,” says Weisberger, author of four top-ten New York Times bestsellers, “but I wanted to know everything about this world and how Charlie would fit into it.”

Like she did for fashion in The Devil Wears Prada, which was made into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway, Weisberger sLWeisberger_final_credit Mike Cohenhows us the backstory of competitive tennis. It is a sport that impacts women players in a much unkinder way. For women, she says, it’s a lonely life.

“Seven of the top ten current men stars are married, one is divorced and four are fathers,” says Weisberger, noting that Roger Federer has four children.

Of the top ten women players?

“None are married and none have children,” she says. “The statistics amazed me.”

Fascinated by how many women stars are known by just one name—Venus, Serena, Maria—Weisberg says that the women work so hard and they’re so obsessed with what they do.

“And there’s the appearance aspect,” she says. “I like the crossover between glamour and dedication. You don’t have to love tennis to love the story.”


What: Lauren Weisberger book signing

When: Friday, July 22 at 7 pm

Where: Hollywood Palms Cinema, 352 S Illinois Rte. 59, Naperville

Cost: $27.95

FYI: 630

My Journey from Shame to Strength: A Memoir by Liz Pryor

Bundled into a car during a winter storm, 17-year-old Liz Pryor left her home in Winnetka with her mother to what she thought was a Catholic home for pregnant teenagers. Instead, Pryor found herself in a locked government-run facility filled with impoverished delinquent girls whose experiences and backgrounds were totally different than hers.PRYOR AUTHOR PHOTO_(c) Susan Sheridan Photography_Fotor

Over the years, Pryor, who went on to become an author, speaker, parenting columnist and life advice expert, appearing on Good Morning America, never talked about her time in confinement. She had promised her mother to keep it a secret.

“Before she passed, I asked her how she would feel if I wrote my story and she said I should do what I want, adding ‘look at you now,’” recalls Pryor who chose to write about her experiences in latest book, (Random House 2016; $28).

“Emotionally it was cathartic for me to write this book, it was incredibly cool to see myself then and now,” says Pryor who didn’t talk about what happened for 36 years. “None of my friends or family knew my story and I thought it was important to share it with my children particularly as I was pretty much the same age as they are now.”

Pryor sees her book as a coming of age story as well as a way of learning to understand the limitations of those we love.

“My mom really thought she was doing the best thing for me by sending me there, she thought otherwise my life would be ruined,” says Pryor. “Those months really changed my outlook. Many of the girls I met started so far behind the starting line.”

Look at you now coverIndeed, the comparison between her lifestyle and those in the detention facility were totally different. Pryor was from wealthy suburb, a background unfathomable to the girls she found herself living with—many of whom came from foster homes or were homeless and had lived on the streets. Pryor had become pregnant during a long term relationship with her boyfriend. Others had been raped and sexually abused. Feeling abandoned by her parents (her mom visited twice, her father once—family and friends were told she was ill and at the Mayo Clinic), Pryor learned to forge friendships with the other women who were locked up with her.

“I think that facing real adversity, if you can make it through, makes you stronger,” she says. “I think what I went through gave me the scrappiness and confidence to do what I’ve done.”


What: Liz Pryor talk and book signing

When & Where: Wednesday, July 13 at 7pm, The Book Cellar, 4736-38 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago; July 14 at 6:30 pm on July 14, The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka.

Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the US Film Industry

When California was still all about oranges, Chicago ruled when it came to movies—a brief but glorious decade where local girl Gloria Swanson earned money as an extra to pay for pickles (of all things) before moving on to stardom, becoming Joe Kennedy’s mistress and then later the fading actress in the classic Sunset Boulevard. Charlie Chaplin came to town to film as did child star Jackie Coogan and heart throb Francis X. Bushman who lost his adoring fan base when it turned out not only was he married with five children but he was also having an affair with his co-star in the The Plum Tree which was filmed, in part on Miller Beach.

It was during these early years of the 19th century when two Chicago power house studios, Essanay and Selig Polyscope, churned out thousands of serials and silent movies.

“Almost 99% of those movies are gone now,” says Adam Selzer, who with Michael Glover Smith, wrote Flickering Empire: How Chicago Invented the US Film Industry (Wallflower 2015; $25). “But between 1907 and 1917, Chicago was the place to make movies.”

Not all is lost. Remnants of that time remain including the studios themselves. Essanay is part of the St. Augustine College campus and the Selig Polyscope Company, its S encased in a diamond still above the entranceway, is now condominiums.

And every once in a while, a gem reappears including the 1916 film Sherlock Holmes produced by Essanay Studios which had disappeared for decades only to be found a year or so ago in a French film archive.

“We’re gong to be hosting a screening of the film a century after it was first made at the old Essanay Studio,” says Selzer. For more about the event which is the same date as their book signing at the Chicago Public Library, visit Selzer’s Website, mysteriouschicago.com. Tickets can be purchased through eventbrite.com and be sure to dress in your best Sherlockian attire.

There are of course anecdotes as well.

“When you drive through the entrance to St. Augustine,” says Selzer, “you can see a cemetery across the way. One day George Spoor, the owner of Essanay, saw actor Ben Turpin walking over to the cemetery carrying flowers. Spoor said Ben, I think that’s a great thing to do, we should always take the flowers we used in the movies to the cemetery. And Ben said ‘sure boss, that’s where I get them.’”

Likening their research to a treasure hunt, albeit a time consuming one, the two not only compiled a trove of information on those early days by reading microfilm editions of now defunct Chicago newspapers at the Harold Washington Library and locating relatives of the Selig family many of whom live in and around Chicago and were willing to share their extensive scrapbook collections. The two also perused the Website, mediahistoryproject.org, a digitized collections of classic media periodicals.

“I like to say that I’m a Chicago historian who knows a bit about films,” says Selzer who also operates ghost tours in the city and has written other books about Chicago. “While Mike is a film historian who knows a bit about Chicago.”

What made the Windy City so attractive?

According to Selzer, it was far enough west to stay under Thomas Edison’s radar.

“Edison had—or claimed he had—patents on the equipment and if film makers didn’t pay royalties, he’d send his goon squad to wreck the equipment,” says Selzer. “The studios didn’t stay here for long, a lot of people say it was because of the cold weather but they may have moved further west to get even further from Edison. But I think the the movies got to so big they needed their own town.”


What: Book signing and chat with Adam Selzer and Michael Glover Smith

When: 3:30pm, Saturday, March 12

Where: Bezanian Branch Chicago Public Library, 1226 W. Ainslie Street, Chicago IL

Cost: Free

FYI: 312-747-4300; chipublib.org

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