How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Stage and Screen: 1935

“Marion here is interested in becoming an actress,” Aunt Jennie said. “I haven’t seen her act, but if her voice is any indication, she’d be the bee’s knees onstage.”
- Suit and Suitability

Marion Dashiell, passionate, demonstrative, artistic, has been bitten by the Hollywood bug. Movies, a relatively new entertainment, were huge business in the 1930s, and though conservative Christian Americans were wary of the impact these films made, the cinema provided an escape into optimism for countless people during the Great Depression.

Many movies of the 1920s and early ’30s were immoral, especially by that day’s standards. Nowadays people have become habituated to most movies having a bit of foul language, sexual innuendos, and violent crime, but back then many morality proponents objected to that kind of content being screened to young Americans. My grandmother, who grew up in the 1920s and ’30s, wasn’t allowed to go to the movies as a young child. In the world of Suit and Suitability, Ellen and Marion Dashiell’s parents didn’t allow them to, either, until they were teenagers. To boycott bad movies and take a moral stand, an organization of regular Americans was created in the 1930s called the Legion of Decency. The Dashiell family participated, though Marion, in typical Marion fashion, at times chafed at the restraints.

What the film industry needed was a rating system, and this was finally enforced in 1934. The Production Code Administration (PCA) formed a code that reluctant Hollywood producers complied with to eliminate objectionable material in their films. Marion, who wants to be in Hollywood, is glad about that, as now more movies were being made that fit her family’s moral standards.

Canton, Ohio, had its share of movie theaters. In old photos of Market Avenue North (one of Canton’s main roads), you can see the giant vertical sign for Loew’s, a nationwide theater chain, sticking out like a thumb over the street. A bit farther down is a slightly fancier vertical sign that still dominates the view today with the word “PALACE.” Canton Palace Theatre is one of the few magnificent movie palaces, popular in the 1920s, still standing in the U.S. This luxurious venue is rightly called a palace with its lush décor and colorful, grandiose rooms. It showed both movies and plays back in the day, and still does nearly one hundred years later. 

Canton Palace Theatre

Marion says about her search for a job, “It’s not exhilarating in the least. I didn’t get anything. I tried the Palace and the other theaters first, of course, but they weren’t looking for so much as a ticket agent, though I did notice the Palace has a stupendous lineup of shows and I’m more determined than ever to stay in Canton for that. Though a lot of good it’d do me if I don’t have any money!”

But Marion’s first love is the stage. She is part of Canton’s prestigious Players Guild, one of the best amateur theater companies in the nation at that time. She participates in her high school drama program (in 1935 it put on Secrets, which was also a movie that starred Mary Pickford). Her first paying job is part of a summer stock theater, which travels the region producing a different play each week. She also dreams of Broadway, but doesn’t know which – Hollywood or Broadway – will be her ultimate destiny. Perhaps the Hollywood actor Wilkie St. John will have some sort of influence? (You know who he is if you’ve read Suit and Suitability).

Broadway, 1916-17

Broadway slumped in the 1930s, like many other industries (but unlike Hollywood). If you wanted to be an actor, you had a better chance in movies, which were becoming consolidated on the West Coast by that time. Broadway was more elitist and therefore played to a smaller audience, though it did produce a good number of popular classics such as Anything Goes (1934) and Porgy and Bess (1935). One of Marion’s favorite moments in her life is when she sees Anything Goes in New York City. (A note from me: I still remember seeing that unforgettable musical presented by a local theatre fifteen years ago!)

Needless to say, I thoroughly enjoyed exploring 1930s Broadway and Hollywood while I was writing Suit and Suitability. Attitudes differed toward secular entertainment back then, just like they do today, so the moral questions involved made for some interesting conflict. Hopefully Marion makes the right choice at the end of the book.

What are your favorite old movies or musicals? Anything from the 1930s?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Canton, Ohio, 1935

Now that Suit and Suitability is available, I thought I’d open the door a bit wider to some extra knowledge about its background  – a place my imagination has walked in and out of for about two years.

Ellen and Marion Dashiell’s story begins in Canton, Ohio, in the middle of the Great Depression. Why did I choose this relatively ordinary location? I was looking for a mid-American industrial town, and Canton winked at me because I have relatives there. They could tell me things about it, and who knew? Maybe I’d even get to visit.

My choice was confirmed when I stumbled across the memoir, A Secret Gift, by Ted Gup, that tells the story of how his grandfather became the mysterious benefactor to dozens of impoverished Cantonians during Christmas 1933. The peek at life in the town was fascinating and enlightening. I learned about local favorites such as Bender’s (a restaurant) and Turkey Foot Lake (a popular recreational draw in the next county over).

I actually did get to visit Canton in 2015 and do on-location research (thanks to my wonderful relatives, blessings from above!), gleaning even more valuable insights – streetcars were no longer used in 1935; the Pennsylvania Railroad station was painted red; McKinley High School seniors put on the play Secrets in 1935; the jail stood beside the courthouse until 1938. I had a spectacular time physically strolling the town that I had hitherto accessed only through my mind.

Canton is in eastern Ohio, not too far from the Pennsylvania border. It’s the seat of Stark County’s palatial courthouse, where Suit and Suitability begins.

The wind was against them as they descended the courthouse steps, snapping at their skin and clothes with ferocious bites. Canton’s brick and stone façades soared over them, every one impressing Ellen with her family’s insignificance and aloneness. She glanced left and right to watch for cars as she and her mother and sisters crossed the street. Even the Gothic church behind them was stern and cold. Bells clanged over the traffic noise, clock towers proclaiming twelve noon like any ordinary day.
Ellen looked back at the gold-bricked courthouse, glancing
at the angels trumpeting in the high tower. The trumpeters of justice? She’d always admired this palatial structure, but now it galled her.
The Dashiell family lives in Vassar Park, a neighborhood that sprang up in the 1920s when housing was booming. Today it’s one of the inner layers of Canton, but back then, it was near the outskirts. Their home is a fairly large Elizabethan. Rather close to where I imagined them living, I found this house:  

It had been a dream house, this Elizabethan. She [Marion], Ellen, and Greta had squealed in delight when they saw it for the first time seven years ago. It was out of a fairy tale. Its maples, elms, and oaks were woods, its flowering plum trees enchanted brides, its gardens fairy courts, its yard a lawn where energetic imagination knew no bounds. Inside, the girls each got their own room, like true princesses, and the number of rooms felt mountainous. Four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a cellar, an attic, a kitchen, a laundry, a dining room, a living room! Everything was bright and new. What she wouldn’t give to go back to those days.

And then there’s Ridgewood, the luxurious neighborhood where the Dashiells’ relatives, the snooty Westwoods, reside.
What a place for a stroll! Ridgewood was even more gorgeous than I imagined it: unique mansions, manicured lawns, stately trees, vibrant gardens, and those distinctive red roads . . .

Ridgewood was a ritzier neighborhood than Vassar Park;
one step out from Canton, it was at least one step up in class, with red brick roads, spacious lawns, and large, strongly individualistic houses. The Depression had raided here, too, however; several mansions had the empty, haunted look of homes longing after their owners.

One of Canton’s greatest residents was William McKinley, the governor of Ohio before he became president in 1897. He is buried there in a memorial mausoleum that was built in 1905, so it would have been a place Suit and Suitability’s characters would know well. 

Canton was full of industries: Hoover (sweepers/vacuum cleaners), Timken (roller bearings), Diebold (safes), and Republic Steel, to name a few. All humongous complexes that clouded the air of this once prosperous city but gave jobs to countless people, many of whom were immigrants. Ellen and Marion’s father is (or rather . . . was . . .) the vice president of Friar’s Tool and Die, a company I created based off Canton’s industries.

Well, I’d better leave you with that. I hope you enjoyed this short visit to the Canton of Suit and Suitability! There’s still more to say about the theaters that played such a role in Marion’s life, but we’ll save that for next time.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Suit and Suitability Release Date

You may have seen this announcement elsewhere, but the eBook of Suit and Suitability, novel number two of the Vintage Jane Austen series, is now available for pre-order on Amazon! It will be published on May 12. 

About the Book:
The mystery surrounding their father’s criminal accusations is almost as hard to solve as the many puzzles springing on their hearts.

Canton, Ohio, 1935. Ellen and Marion Dashiell’s world crumbles when their father is sent to prison. Forced to relocate to a small town, what is left of their family faces a new reality where survival overshadows dreams. Sensible Ellen, struggling to hold the family together, is parted from the man she’s just learning to love, while headstrong Marion fears she will never be the actress she aspires to be. When a dashing hero enters the scene, things only grow more complicated. But could a third man hold the key to the restoration and happiness of the Dashiell family?

Buy on Amazon
Add to Goodreads

What else you need to know:

The current price is $2.99, but it will be marked up to $3.99 after May 14 and then to $4.99 a week later.

As for the paperback edition, that will be coming soon! I'll announce when it becomes available. I'm a paperback type of person myself, so I'm really looking forward to its arrival.

As I mentioned, this is the second book in the Vintage Jane Austen series, and the third to be released. If you haven't yet, check out Emmeline by Sarah Holman and Second Impressions: A Collection of Fiction Inspired by Jane Austen, edited by Hannah Scheele!

Finally . . .
I've been praising God all week that Suit and Suitability is finished and published. It's been a challenging two-year companion to my life, bringing me joy and causing me tears and driving me often to the Lord in prayer for wisdom and encouragement. I wouldn't have traded this project for any other!

For all of you who helped me bring Suit and Suitability to the light of public day, I am deeply grateful. You were and are a blessing to me, and this book would not be the same without you! (It's even questionable whether it would be here at all.)

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Meet the Authors of Second Impressions

Read about Second Impressions, part of the Vintage Jane Austen, here. And now, I'm thrilled to feature the authors of this short story collection.
Meet the Authors!
E. Kaiser Writes, author of “Chocolate Surprise," “The Mansfield," and “Peace in the Orchard," credits her nearly nomadic childhood for the vast reach of her fictional worlds. She has lived in the Rocky Mountains, the Smoky Mountains, the plains, the deep forest, the searing Texas summer, and the frozen Minnesota north.
She wears many hats: writer and editor of ad copy, web copy, office correspondence, and fiction; a cowgirl, animal trainer, seamstress, jeweler, artist and…authoress! Visit her at
her blog, her FB author page, and her website,, where you can find links to her other social media sites.

Here is what she has to say about “Chocolate Surprise":
   I started this tale on a whim, a lot like I often do in a "writing exercise" mode. A tree, sunlight... the feeling of the '50s emerged within a few sentences and I really though this was going to be a Pride & Prejudice thing. Then... wham! the heroine opened the door and she was so clearly an Emma that the rest of the piece just rolled from there.
  I love when a tale comes together like that, and it's not something that happens a lot for me; short is like pulling teeth. So the fact that this one wrapped in well under 10k was a shock, and also delightful! 

And Peace in the Orchard":
  After thinking about the themes further, it fascinated and frustrated me that I wasn't able to do a P&P in the '50s. Wondering if that block would go away if we took it and skipped genres, I tried fitting it in various outlandish settings, but the fantasy was what clicked. Instead of a prince (why always a prince?), I set the hero as a young king whose father had died, a la Darcy... and when our heroine came on the scene with the name of Izzy, she just popped off the page with red hair and everything.
   My one regret is I didn't have time in RL to draw a picture of her with her pet for the story!

And The Manfield":
 Almost at the same time my brain was trying genre swaps for P&P, it was also flipping through genres for the other tales, to see who clicked best. Mansfield Park on a spaceship just locked so tight that I couldn't get it out of my head, so after writing Peace I punched out this one as well, and sent it in as a followup. I personally thought Peace" was stronger, but my sister surprised me by voting for Mansfield" as her favorite, (and she's not a huge sci-fi person.) Amazingly, the editor also agreed with my sis, so I'm having to reevaluate my reasons for thinking that!
   I guess that's just the wonderful thing about tastes in literature, there can be something for everyone.

Gail Bryant, author of “Gently Pursued, Finally Persuaded," is a sixty-something grandma born and raised in the Chicago area, who, along with her husband, has called Central Texas her home for over thirty-five years.
After observing the enjoyment and satisfaction the budding authors in her daughter’s writing group experienced by creating characters and telling their stories, she wanted to see first-hand what all the fun was about, hence her first short story.
She endeavors to keep her mind and body active and well nourished by learning new things, reading good books, listening to good music, eating good food, and spending time with her grandson, not necessarily in that order.

Here is what she has to say about “Gently Pursued, Finally Persuaded": I have read and enjoyed each of Jane Austen's six celebrated novels, but her Persuasion wins my "favorite" vote. Therefore it was my first choice for a short story retelling.
Anne is the oldest of the Austen heroines and seems to be the most mature (with Elinor in a close second place).
There are so many good stories already available with even more being written in which the heroine and hero are young with flawless good looks. The idea came to me to age the characters somewhat and show that even seniors still have lots of life to live. 

Therese Peyton, author of “The Secret of Pemberley Estate," is a twenty-one-year-old Catholic girl with the heart of a child. Her biggest dream is to write and publish clean and beautiful Japanese manga comics. She’s a Victorian living in modern times who loves drawing, writing, classical music, common sense, and Louisa May Alcott. A homeschool graduate, Therese lives with her mom, dad, and five siblings out in the boonies.

Here is what she has to say about “The Secret of Pemberley Estate":    Writing “The Secret of Pemberley Estate" was certainly a very interesting and challenging project! Though Jane Austen's novels are not mysteries, I decided to make this story one in order to give it an unexpected, dramatic touch – a book you would not come across every day.
   It may seem strange to readers that this story was written with Georgiana Darcy as the central character and not Elizabeth Bennet. Georgiana was hardly even in Jane Austen's
Pride and Prejudice! And yet, what we do glean from those minimal pieces of information is the very subtle character of a heroine. Though not sparkling like Elizabeth, I chose to write this story through Georgiana's perspective to show that those introverted and unexpectedly quieter people in life can be heroes and heroines, too.
   But perhaps the omission of romance and a marital “happily ever after" for Georgiana may be even more surprising, especially to avid Jane Austen readers. But I can easily picture her, who doesn't struggle with financial difficulties like other Austen heroines, living contentedly with her beloved brother and sister-in-law. The progress that the protagonist makes towards perfection is what seems to truly define Austen's works and not merely her romantic plots. I hope I was at least able to accomplish this a little in “The Secret of Pemberley Estate."

Mikayla Holman, author of “Emma's Irritation," is a seventeen-year-old from Central Texas. She is very passionate about writing and photography; she hopes to make one of them her profession someday. Until then, she likes to keep her writing in practice by blogging, emailing, and writing lots of novellas. She fills up her camera card super-fast by taking photos of nature, and occasionally portraits. When not pursuing those hobbies, she can oftentimes be found hanging out with her friends, reading heaps of books, reading blogs, or biking around in the country. Visit her at, or any of her other spots on the web: Pinterest, Goodreads, and Instagram.

Here's what she has to say about “Emma's Irritation":
I have always loved Jane Austen, since I grew up with my sisters watching the movies. The first book I read was Pride and Prejudice, but when I read Emma I fell in love with it. In the book there is a conversation Mr. Knightley and Emma have that they never included in any of the movies, but I just loved it because it talks about them as children. So when I heard about this collection I decided to write a story based on that conversation! 

Jennifer Baxter, author of “Mother's Day" and “Maid in Houston," is a Jane Austen fan girl and hobby author. When she is not writing stories, she is living them in Texas, the greatest state on earth. 

Here's what she has to say about Mother's Day": 
 Mother's Day is coming up and is one of my favorite holidays, and that got me thinking about the Jane Austen moms. They're not a very impressive bunch overall! (Especially not Lady Catherine and Mrs Bennet). Elinor and Marianne's mom is one of the nicest, and thinking about her led me to write this story.

And here is what she has to say about Maid in Houston": 
Like every Jane Austen fan, I love Pride and Prejudice, but when I started brainstorming for a short story idea I didn't want to pick the usual books – Pride and Prejudice and Emma. A lot of readers are hard on Fanny Price, but I had a lot of sympathy with her growing up, and I had an idea if I put her in a very different setting I could maybe explain why I admire her as a character. She knows how to work and how to listen, and in the long run that's what matters. Not how popular or powerful you are, but who you prove yourself to be as a person.

Hannah Jones, author of “Elaina," is, most importantly, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. She has been homeschooled all her life and lives in the Southwest. There are many things she enjoys, including writing, reading, drawing, painting, singing, music, tap dancing, vintage everything, family, and friends, but above all she loves to tell people about the joy of God’s love!

Here's what she has to say about “Elaina": 
I have been a fan of Jane Austen books and movies for as long as I can remember. I was practically born and raised on them! So when I heard that there was an opportunity to rewrite one of Miss Austen’s books, I jumped at the chance! I chose Emma because it is my favorite of her stories and I chose a medieval setting because I love that era! It was incredibly fun to write Elaina" and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Monday, May 8, 2017

Second Impressions (The Vintage Jane Austen)

The past several weeks have been eventful for the Vintage Jane Austen project that I’m a part of. Later I have a special announcement about my own book, but the spotlight today is on Second Impressions: A Collection of Fiction Inspired by Jane Austen.

Jane Austen's stories have inspired writers for this collection they inspire fiction across the genres!
From the English Regency to the American 1950s, in Houston or a space freighter, fairytale land or a retirement center...Austen's timeless characters come to life again.

Featuring: Chocolate Surprise - Gently Pursued, Finally Persuaded - The Secret of Pemberley Estate - Emma's Irritation - Mother's Day - The Mansfield - Elaina - Peace in the Orchard - Maid in Houston.

I was privileged to help Hannah Scheele, editor and cover designer, behind the scenes on this book by copyediting the stories and formatting the paperback edition. Let me tell you, this is a fun and interesting collection of short stories! I am fascinated by how the authors were able to take all sorts of directions with Jane Austen’s beloved novels. Read my review on Goodreads for more of my thoughts. Check out the book on here.

Read the next post for a special feature about the talented authors of this anthology!

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Oxford Reflections Part 3

Here is my third and final round-up of favorite photos from the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class. They’re quite a hodge-podge, as they represent all the various things I saw that didn’t fit into part 1 and 2!

Our guest cottages were at Banbury Hill Farm, planted in the Cotswold countryside near Charlbury (if you zoom in on the third and fourth photos, you can see village buildings). The farm was quite a spread, with a bed-and-breakfast, holiday cottages, camping sites, and everything else that would make visitors comfortable. And it was a working farm: walk several hundred yards and you'd find sheep, chickens, rabbits, and practically every other kind of farm animal you can imagine. If you're ever in the vicinity, I highly recommend staying here. The second photo is our guesthouse; the door to the suite (named Evenlode) where I stayed is in the middle.

The many moods of an English wood. As I said, Banbury Hill Farm had lots of amenities . . . my favorite being the woods and walking trails behind the place, quite possibly my favorite location on the whole trip. I walked these trails a couple of cold mornings, enjoying time to pray in the silence broken only by birds. 

Amanda Cannon Photography

These are views of Elstow Abbey, where John Bunyan was christened and where he attended as a child and young man, even ringing the bells. He was born not far from here in a rural cottage in 1628. We saw some things that probably inspired his book Pilgrim's Progress, including this wicket gate in the wall of the church. The stained-glass window is a Victorian depiction of important scenes from the book. The church, which used to be a much more extensive convent, was built about 1078 by William the Conqueror's niece Judith. Learning about Bunyan's humble origins and difficult life inspired us . . . if someone with limited education could write a book (Pilgrim's Progress) in a cold, dark, seventeenth-century prison, then how can we be discouraged at the small obstacles we face as writers today? God is with us as He was with John Bunyan.

Amanda Cannon Photography
The Round Church (Church of the Holy Sepulchre) is one of many intriguing buildings we saw in Cambridge, another university town.

On our last full day, we went to Stratford-upon-Avon, Shakespeare's birthplace. The brown house is believed to be the actual place where he was born in 1564! Stratford still contains a lot of architecture from the era. That evening we saw Julius Caesar at the Royal Shakespeare Company—an amazing performance. The actors and actresses transported us to Ancient Rome (albeit a Shakespearean version) with only their skill and a few well-selected sets and props. 

I hope you enjoyed this summary of my week in England! Anybody want to go back with me? (I really do hope to return one day, if the Lord wills it!) Have you ever wanted to go to England? What would you most like to see?