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Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

[ Edited ]

Sometime back I asked you all what authors you'd like to meet here, and Stephanie Barron was one of the authors you requested. Her website is here: http://francinemathews.com/

 

From her website:

 

About Stephanie

Stephanie BarronStephanie Barron was born Francine Stephanie Barron in Binghamton, NY in 1963, the last of six girls. Her father was a retired general in the Air Force, her mother a beautiful woman who loved to dance. The family spent their summers on Cape Cod, where two of the Barron girls now live with their families; Francine's passion for Nantucket and the New England shoreline dates from her earliest memories. She grew up in Washington, D.C., and attended Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School, a two hundred year-old Catholic school for girls that shares a wall with Georgetown University. Her father died of a heart attack during her freshman year. 

In 1981, she started college at Princeton – one of the most formative experiences of her life. There she fenced for the club varsity team and learned to write news stories for The Daily Princetonian – a hobby that led to two part-time jobs as a journalist for The Miami Herald and The San Jose Mercury News. Francine majored in European History, studying Napoleonic France, and won an Arthur W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship in the Humanities in her senior year. But the course she remembers most vividly from her time at Princeton is "The Literature of Fact," taught by John McPhee, the Pulitzer Prize winning author and staff writer for The New Yorker. John influenced Francine's writing more than even she knows and certainly more than she is able to say. If there were an altar erected to the man in Colorado, she'd place offerings there daily. He's her personal god of craft. 

Francine spent three years at Stanford pursuing a doctorate in history; she failed to write her dissertation (on the Brazilian Bar Association under authoritarianism; can you blame her?) and left with a Masters. She applied to the CIA, spent a year temping in Northern Virginia while the FBI asked inconvenient questions of everyone she had ever known, passed a polygraph test on her twenty-sixth birthday, and was immediately thrown into the Career Trainee program: Boot Camp for the Agency's Best and Brightest. Four years as an intelligence analyst at the CIA were profoundly fulfilling, the highlights being Francine's work on the Counterterrorism Center's investigation into the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103, over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988, and sleeping on a horsehair mattress in a Spectre-era casino in the middle of Bratislava. Another peak moment was her chance to debrief ex-President George Bush in Houston in 1993. But what she remembers most about the place are the extraordinary intelligence and dedication of most of the staff – many of them women – many of whom cannot be named. 

She wrote her first book in 1992 and left the Agency a year later. Fifteen books have followed, along with sundry children, dogs, and houses. When she's not writing, she likes to ski, garden, needlepoint, and buy art. Her phone number is definitely unlisted. 

Join Stephanie's Mailing List

Author photo: Marea Evans British mysteries
Jane Austen

 

Stephanie Barron also writes contemporary thrillers under the name Francine Mathews. Click here for more information. 

All content copyright 2011, Stephanie Barron/Francine Mathews. 


 

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Francine Mathews aka Stephanie Barron I have always been someone who wrote for a living. When I was young, I put words on paper because I was a solitary child, because my father died when I was a teenager, and the world I could make in the pages of lined notebooks helped keep my loneliness at bay. I wrote to escape, to conceive a more exotic life. I wrote myself out of despair and into adulthood, and words, for me, will always possess a transformative power.

But ultimately I wrote because I had no choice. Words are the way I understand existence. Maybe this comes from voracious reading, or maybe from the particles of DNA in my body. I know that I am incapable of drawing more than a stick-figure, incapable of singing an unwavering note; but words are the gift of my particular brain. When I write, I live out my destiny as much as an elk does, bugling in the autumn, or a salmon swimming upstream.

Russell Baker, in his book Growing Up, declared that he decided early in life that: The only thing I was fit for was to be a writer, and this notion rested solely on my suspicion that I would never be fit for real work, and that writing didn't require any (Russell Baker,Growing Up, Ch. 9).

He was obviously going for a laugh when he put that sentiment down on paper. It's common for laymen to regard writers as self-indulgent, rather indolent people who like to sleep late, work in their pajamas, and earn their living in fits and starts. Writers don't have their taxes withheld, which makes them almost un-American. But Russell Baker was also confessing his writer's self-doubt: If it comes as naturally as breathing, it must be illegitimate.

Those of us who write-who have scribbled words on paper since we could hold a pencil-live deep down with the paradox of the gift. We know that words are the only way we understand experience--we live our great moments of joy and sorrow most fully once we've managed to write a scene about them-but we're almost ashamed of how easily that happens. Everything is material, including the people we live with, the terrible or lovely things they do to us, the lies and the sadness and the joy we ourselves cause. It all ends up on paper. In every writer, there is something of the exploitative and the ruthless; and perhaps this is what it means to attempt art.

We writers may avoid fiction for years together, putting the words into newspapers, or book reviews, or academic journals or how-to guides. We may write letters that no one reads, or volume after volume of meticulous journals.

But whatever we do with the words that come, we cannot stop them coming. And because it is somehow as automatic as breathing, we take it, on some level, for granted.

Francine Mathews aka Stephanie Barron
Writing isn't work. Writing is how we live. We take that material and fashion something spiritual from it, a guide for traveling from one day to the next.

When I write of hunger, said MFK Fisher in The Gastronomical Me, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it.and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied and it is all one.

Her prose sings because she was writing most deeply about what sustained her, about the force that kept her going year after year, from one continent to another, despite war and heartache and age and illness.

A love of words can sustain us when nothing else will. We find it in the solace of books beloved from childhood, from that flash of genius when we craft a truly great sentence, from a smattering of print on the page of a letter.

We horde words like precious objects, turning them over in our minds. We become thieves in the conversational night, beggars at the feet of the eloquent, covetous of all we cannot say.

My dear friend Barbara wrote from Taipei "The rain comes as suddenly as a knock at the door and pours straight down like it's looking for Noah." I've emailed that sentence to everyone I can think of, because it's perfect, and I wish I had written it; I wish I could steal it, and put it again in the mouth of some character.

Barbara does not write for a living. But Barbara could.

When I say, as cavalierly as Russell Baker, that writing isn't work, it's how we live, I'm not talking about editing, here, or the agony of revision, or the pain in the ass that is outlining a novel. I'm not talking about research, or character development, or what it takes to hold suspense.

I'm talking about the impulse that gets me up at night, some nights, when my children have long since gone to sleep, and the words of dialogue that have kept sleep at bay, force me downstairs in the heatless chill of my empty house. I'm groggy and humming with words, I've got to get them down on paper, thrown onto a screen, or I'll be editing and re-editing them in my brain until dawn.

I'm talking about the moment that comes, in every novel I've ever written, when the outlines and the research and the plotting are forgotten, and my characters grow wings. They pick up the book and fly away with it, and I run after them, typing furiously, taking dictation as they tell me how things must be. Ernest Hemingway said, in Old Newsman Writes, that all good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.

When the words come like that, in a rush, I feel like a medium. Not a dress size, but an old-fashioned channel for the spirits. The words come from beyond me, somehow, or perhaps from deep within me, and they are forced to the surface by emotion and thought. I can find no other way to describe the creative process. I could no more shut out those words than I could cease to love or feel.

Sometimes words come to me in the shower. Or while I'm stopped at a red light. I once wrote the final scene to a book I hadn't started while waiting for an airport shuttle. But they also come to me with surprising readiness most days that I sit down before my computer.

Francine Mathews aka Stephanie Barron
I have the luxury of writing for a living. I recognize that it is a luxury-to have escaped the day job, the "real work" that Russell Baker is afraid of-the legitimacy of a formal office; and like him, I feel vaguely guilty about it. I have the luxury of ordering my days. But that also requires a measure of discipline. With the privilege comes the responsibility not to misuse it.

I could plant bulbs all day. I could read cookbooks. I could needlepoint while my children build with Lincoln Logs. But instead I sit down at the computer every morning of my life, and wait for the words to come. They have never failed me yet. It's my bargain with the medium, with the rush from outside or within, that if I sit there, the words will grant me their blessing.

Years ago when my elder son, Sam, was five, he asked me why I write books. I tried to make him understand. I said that I got to tell stories that people liked to read. That my books were in libraries. That it was my job to stay home and make things up. He looked at me incredulously and said, "Gosh, Mom, I wish I were you!"

I laughed. I told him that he could be. He has a gift for telling stories; he tells them to himself all day long. He thought about it and said, "Well, Mom, when you're done being a famous girl writer, you could always drive a race car."

I like to think about that. Me, in the car, something fast and red without a top, probably, one finger on the wheel. But the words would still be there, humming in my brain while the tires spin and the lights flash and the checkered flag sweeps down in a blur. The words are never done. They're the essence of how we live, they're the signposts that mark the journey, they're the only certainty we possess of having experienced at all. We don' t write because it pays or because it's cool to bring up at your average cocktail party. We write, as Carlos Fuentes says, so as not to die.


Advice for beginning writers:

"I always heard, 'Write about what you know.' I disagree. I say, write about what you love. You can always research the rest. If you're going to live with a character and a place for months on end, you'd better love them. And the passion comes through. Editors are looking for passion."

 

"Don't write to fill a gap in the market. It'll be gone by the time you get there."

"Get into a book critique group. There's great emotional support and objective criticism."

Outline your work. "You need to know how to get from here to there, from beginning to end. Without an outline... It's like trying to get into a car and drive to New York without a map. You know where you want to go, but not necessarily how to get there."

(excerpted from the Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph) 

© Francine Mathews
British mysteries
Jane Austen
historical mysteries

 

Stephanie Barron also writes contemporary thrillers under the name Francine Mathews. Click here for more information. 

All content copyright 2011, Stephanie Barron/Francine Mathews
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

[ Edited ]

 

In the News

JANE ADDICTION

Colorado Springs Gazette-Telegraph
Feb. 2, 1997

Stephanie Barron grew up in Washington, D.C., attended prestigious schools and once worked for the CIA. So what's a nice, ambitious woman like Barron doing living in Evergreen, Colorado?

She's writing mysteries – and making a living at it.

Under the name Stephanie Barron (her middle and maiden names), she writes a critically acclaimed Jane Austen mystery series, set in 18th century England.

Under the name Francine Mathews (her first and married names), she writes the Merry Folger mysteries, a contemporary series set in New England.

 

Barron, 33, graduated with a degree in European history from Princeton and went into an elite training program for CIA analysts. "It was very much like working in a think tank," she says. "It was exciting, in a way, but I really hated working 8 to 5."

What she really wanted to do, after she married and moved to Colorado with her husband three years ago, was to stay at home, write full time and raise kids. Unlike most wannabe authors, she pulled it off.

Her husband was doubtful, she confesses. He said if she could write a book and sell it, she could quit her job. So she wrote her first Merry Folger mystery and sent it off to several publishers. Unknown to her, her mother-in-law sent it to an agent she knew. The agent loved it and sold it in six weeks. "That's extraordinarily lucky," Barron says.

Several years ago, she got the idea for writing the Jane Austen mysteries, which star the real-life author of the late-1700s as a journal-writing sleuth.

Barron didn't just jump on the Austen bandwagon. She's been reading Austen since she was 12 years old and has reread the author's letters and books – among them Pride and Prejudice andSense and Sensability, – many times.

Writing about Jane was "baldly, a self-indulgence," Barron says. But she also wanted to enlighten people about the author's life. "I wanted to destroy the myths about Jane," Barron says. "That she was a quiet little spinster who led a short, dull life. She actually had many important connections and moved in circles that brought her into contact with many famous and interesting people.

"Jane was so much more integrated into life than woman of the '90s," Barron adds. "She had time to write letters, take walks, have real conversations, dine early if she felt like it. I envy that."

Barron says it was Austen's "special understanding for the human heart" and her ability to direct conversations that made her think Austen would be a good sleuth. After all, inquiry was about the only tool detectives had in the 18th century. "And she was always being sent to spend months at someone's country estate – that alone is enough reason for murder!" Barron says.

Writing in Austen's style was not as daunting as it might seem. Barron copied the style of Austen's letters – "punchy, wry, occasionally vicious, and intimate – rather than the formal prose found in Austen's novels.

Her knowledge of the history of the period made research easier. And when she came upon the idea of combining the character of Austen with the mystery genre, she unabashedly says, "I thought it was brilliant!" But she realized she'd have to write quickly, before someone else thought of it.

 

"I had to be careful, though," Barron says. "Mostly, we dislike it when a writer appropriates a real character and places them in a fictional setting. But there are so many gaps in what we know about Jane. Many of Austen's letters were destroyed by her sister and best friend, Cassandra, after Austen died. [This watercolor of Jane was drawn by Cassandra in about 1802. Credit:The World of Jane Austen by Nigel Nicolson.]

 

Of course, choosing a real character creates parameters that would not exist in the world of such a wholly fictional character as Merry Folger. But Barron doesn't mind; she's true to the facts about Austen and conjures believable events to fill the gaps. It is known that Austen had a failed romance, an incidence that Barron works into the plot of Man of the Cloth. In the next book, The Wandering Eye, Barron turns to a real event in Austen's life – the tragic loss of her dearest friend, who dies in a fall from a horse on Austen's birthday.

In all of the Austen books, Barron uses the technique of a journal to tell the tale. Jane's journal recounts the events that engage her interest and conversations she has or overhears, and Barron adds footnotes to explain certain references, as an editor would. "Some people like the footnotes; others are annoyed by them," Barron says. "The British publisher deletes them altogether. Partly, I include them to explain things that Jane might make reference to in her journal to herself. Mostly I include them to enrich the story, and add information for the readers who want it," Barron says.

Barron has skillfully replicated Austen's wry sense of humor in her books. "I've always found Austen fascinating, because I share her sense of humor," she says. "I love the caricatures she draws with words. The amiable man who is really a rogue. The vulgar young woman intent only on marriage. The foolish older woman. And clergymen are the most despicable of all. She really pillories men of the cloth, which I find interesting because she was the daughter of one, and there were clergymen all over her family."

Barron says she was concerned that others who love Austen as she does would be offended. She was afraid it would be interpreted as using a literary icon in a crass manner. But so far, I've only received one really outraged letter," she says. "I guess that's pretty good."

Barron, who writes one Merry Folger mystery every six months and one Austen mystery every six months, is more prolific and committed than she ever dreamed she'd be. "All I do is write and chase my 2-year-old," she says, laughing.

For her, it's a dream come true.

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Jack 1939  

 

Overview

 

In "one of the most deliciously high-concept thrillers imaginable" (The New Yorker) a young JFK travels to Europe on a secret mission for President Roosevelt

 

It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.

 

It’s a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, Roosevelt’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that has been flooding the United States to buy the 1940 election—an election that Adolf Hitler intends Roosevelt lose.

In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage tale that explores what might have happened when a young Jack Kennedy is let loose in Europe as the world careens toward war. A potent combination of history and storytelling, Jack 1939 is a sexy, entertaining read.

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dulcinea3
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Welcome, Stephanie!  I'm so excited that you are joining us!  Being a huge Jane Austen fan, I love your Austen mysteries.  This was the first series that I read featuring a real-life author as fictional sleuth, and I was hooked on this subgenre!  Since then, I have also read mysteries featuring Charlotte Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, Josephine Tey, and Beatrix Potter.

 

I have to confess to being a little behind on the series; I think I have read the first six, but I definitely plan on reading them all!  I think that you have researched Jane Austen very well, and everything seems very realistic and believable.

 

I'll start by asking you the question I have asked each such author when they visited - do you know or or have a preferred name for this subgenre?

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Jane and the Canterbury Tale (Jane Austen Series #11)  

 

Overview

 

Three years after news of her scandalous husband’s death, Adelaide Fiske is at the altar again, her groom a soldier on the Marquis of Wellington’s staff. The prospects seem bright for one of the most notorious women in Kent—until Jane Austen discovers a corpse on the ancient Pilgrim’s Way that runs through her brother Edward’s estate. As First Magistrate for Canterbury, Edward is forced to investigate, with Jane as his reluctant assistant. But she rises to the challenge and leaves no stone unturned, discovering mysteries deeper than she could have anticipated. It seems that Adelaide’s previous husband has returned for the new couple’s nuptials—only this time, genuinely, profoundly dead. But when a second corpse appears beside the ancient Pilgrim’s Way, Jane has no choice but to confront a murderer, lest the next corpse be her own.

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Check out Stephanie/Francine's blog here: http://stephaniebarronbooks.blogspot.com/

 

Please give Stephanie/Francine a big B&N welcome!

 

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Fricka
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Yes, a warm welcome, Stephanie. I had the pleasure of attending a Jane Austen tea and getting to listen to you discuss your (then) latest book, Jane and the Canterbury Tale. I've now read ALL of your Jane Austen books, and am hoping you are going to write at least one more!

 

I read with great interest several pieces of news connected with Jane Austen recently. One is that some sort of autopsy or hair analysis was done, and it was determined that the cause of Jane's death was Arsenic poisoning. Based on the comments you made about her sister Cassandra and her penchant for profiting by the deaths of those around her, do you have a theory about what really happened to Jane? More importantly, do you have any plans to incorporate that information into a book?

 

The second bit of news is that the American singer, Kelly Clarkson, had bought a ring that belonged to Jane Austen, but because there was such an uproar about the ring being taken out of England, monies were raised, and now the ring will be staying in England--probably installed in a museum. Must say Clarkson took the news well and now intends to have a replica ring made which she intends to wear at her wedding. Have you ever been tempted to get any mementos that belonged to Jane, and if so, what would be your ideal keepsake?

" A murder mystery is the normal recreation of the noble mind."--Sister Carol Anne O' Marie
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maxcat
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Hi, Stephanie, welcome to the forum. I have also read some of the Austen mysteries but not all of them. It seems I have to buy some more books.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep, but I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep - Robert Frost
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Stephanie is here but she's being plagued by the cursed sign-in gnomes. If the usual tricks don't work, I'll post her responses on her behalf.

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!


dulcinea3 wrote:

Welcome, Stephanie!  I'm so excited that you are joining us!  Being a huge Jane Austen fan, I love your Austen mysteries.  This was the first series that I read featuring a real-life author as fictional sleuth, and I was hooked on this subgenre!  Since then, I have also read mysteries featuring Charlotte Bronte, Louisa May Alcott, Josephine Tey, and Beatrix Potter.

 

I have to confess to being a little behind on the series; I think I have read the first six, but I definitely plan on reading them all!  I think that you have researched Jane Austen very well, and everything seems very realistic and believable.

 

I'll start by asking you the question I have asked each such author when they visited - do you know or or have a preferred name for this subgenre?


Here is Stephanie/Francine's reply:

 

I realize that you’re asking whether I have a subgenre name for fiction written about actual authors, with characters drawn from real lives, but I’m afraid I prefer to think of these works as simply historical fiction.  That’s probably because as Francine Mathews I also use characters drawn from real life—Jack Kennedy being the most obvious.  The fact that Jane was a writer and Jack was a politician is less relevant to me than that they lived intensely during their times, and thus make great guides in storytelling.  I love applying the “what if?” principle to actual events and people.

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!


Fricka wrote:

Yes, a warm welcome, Stephanie. I had the pleasure of attending a Jane Austen tea and getting to listen to you discuss your (then) latest book, Jane and the Canterbury Tale. I've now read ALL of your Jane Austen books, and am hoping you are going to write at least one more!

 

I read with great interest several pieces of news connected with Jane Austen recently. One is that some sort of autopsy or hair analysis was done, and it was determined that the cause of Jane's death was Arsenic poisoning. Based on the comments you made about her sister Cassandra and her penchant for profiting by the deaths of those around her, do you have a theory about what really happened to Jane? More importantly, do you have any plans to incorporate that information into a book?

 

The second bit of news is that the American singer, Kelly Clarkson, had bought a ring that belonged to Jane Austen, but because there was such an uproar about the ring being taken out of England, monies were raised, and now the ring will be staying in England--probably installed in a museum. Must say Clarkson took the news well and now intends to have a replica ring made which she intends to wear at her wedding. Have you ever been tempted to get any mementos that belonged to Jane, and if so, what would be your ideal keepsake?


Here's a response from Stephanie/Francine:

 

To Fricka:

 

I’m glad that you enjoyed the tea enough to go read the Jane Austen Mysteries!  They’ve been a lot of fun to research and write—and yes, there’s another in the offing: Jane and the Twelve Days of Christmas should be out right around this time next year, 2014.  As for the latest Jane gossip, I haven’t read anything about arsenical poisoning—I’ll have to go look that idea up—but from Jane’s own description of her symptoms, that doesn’t sound at all likely.  She suffered a lingering decline over a period of at least six months, and arsenic poisoning is generally a matter of 48 hours of profound gastrointestinal upset.  It doesn’t surprise me that she had arsenic deposits in her hair—most of those who lived in her day would have done so, because the most common green dye (and we suspect it was one of Jane’s favorite colors) was derived from an arsenic base.  Just as many of us have low-grade lead poisoning from the use of lead crystal, so too did Jane and her contemporaries suffer from atmospheric poisons.  However, before I say any more on that topic I’ll have to research the specifics you mention.

 

As for Kelly Clarkson’s ring, she ought to have donated it, in my opinion.  J

And there’s really nothing of Jane’s I’d like to have—except her signature.

 

Thanks!

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

[ Edited ]

I love this discussion! Francine, if you were able to go back in time and have dinner with Jane Austen, what questions would you want to ask her?

 

Also, what's your favorite Jane Austen novel?

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becke_davis
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Stephanie/Francine (not sure which you prefer) - Do you have a favorite among your own books?

 

Can you give us any hints about what you're working on now?

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dulcinea3
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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

I want to say thank you so much for visiting with us, Stephanie!  I'm sorry that you were unable to participate directly.

 

I will echo Becke's question - what is your favorite Jane Austen work?

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Re: Please Welcome Featured Author STEPHANIE BARRON aka FRANCINE MATHEWS!

Stephanie - Thanks so much for visiting with us! I'm so sorry about all the technical problems!