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Advice Goddess: December 2014
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 15:58

Shrieking beauty .... 


Q: — Our neighborhood bar started having karaoke night on weekends, and my wife always wants to go and sing. I love her, and she’s a great person, but she’s an absolutely terrible singer, and I’m embarrassed for her (and a little for myself) every time she gets up there and belts one out. Does love mean being honest with your wife about her singing voice? 

— Broken Eardrums

Your wife is one of the few karaoke singers who manages to surprise the audience — making people turn around to see whether someone’s singing “Blackbird” or being pecked to death by one.

This actually isn’t a bad thing. “Karaoke” is Japanese for “y’all better be drunk, because I’m trying my luck at Donna Summer.”

Great karaoke isn’t about doing it right; it’s about doing it proud. So you show your love for your wife by whooping up the audience —  clapping and cheering as she misses all the high notes (singing from the heart but with the vocal stylings of a diseased spleen).

While you’re at it, consider yourself lucky. People with a healthy sense of confidence make the best relationship partners — if somewhat costlier ones, like when you need to get your house professionally soundproofed so the neighbors will stop reporting you for animal cruelty.

Interestingly, the satanic rituals involving a flock of chickens and a nail gun always seem to take place when your wife is in the shower.

Along came polygraph

I’m an aspiring comedian — seriously aspiring — so I’m out most nights doing stand-up. My girlfriend gets upset about all the time I put into this and expects my nights off to be spent with her. Recently, I was going to an open mic, when a friend called and invited me to a birthday party. I ended up blowing off stand-up for the party, but later, my girlfriend asked me how stand-up went and I just said “fine.” I don’t normally lie, but looking back, I was just tired and not up for a drawn-out conversation. The next morning, I said something about the party, and she realized that I’d lied. Now she is upset and says that if I’d lie about something so insignificant, maybe I’m lying about bigger things. 
— Stand-up Guy

You’re an aspiring comedian but a failed sociopath — telling a lie about your whereabouts at night but going all “whoopsy” about maintaining it the morning after. On the success-in-crime scale, this is like getting picked up by the cops for bank robbery — because the bank manager spotted you making off with that pen on a chain.

Still, yours was not a white lie — a lie to spare another person’s feelings — but more of a beige lie: a lie to spare your own feelings (allowing you to get into bed instead of into a three-hour parole hearing).

Obviously, lies are not Miracle-Gro for a relationship. Even small lies gnaw away at trust and can destroy your bond. But seeing as there’s no evidence you’re a serial liar, what’s important is why you told this lie.

Maybe you’re generally conflict-avoidant. But chances are, you’re specifically conflict-avoidant — comedy conflict-avoidant — probably because your girlfriend sees your devotion to your comedy as a crime against the relationship.

This is probably what led her to believe that all of your non-comedy nights belong to her — which amounts to your being an indentured boyfriend, working off all your stand-up nights with romantic evenings out. When you love somebody, no, spending time with them isn’t the worst thing in the world. But you also need time to goof off and be a person -- to cut out of comedy some night to hang with a friend at a party or just sit in your underwear and stare at the UPC label on a can of beer.

As you’ve seen, avoiding conflict doesn’t make it go away; it just goes away and sharpens its fangs. You and your girlfriend need to discuss whether she’s truly on board with your doing comedy and all that entails, including your need for some unapproved lone fun. If, for her, this isn’t so much about time as it is about feeling important to you, you could pledge to be extra-affectionate when you’re together -- hug her, kiss her, sweetie-talk her — and set aside a designated day every week to spend together (as a number of comedy couples do).

If she can opt for quality over quantity, you should be able to retire from your brief career as a failed liar -- or at least put lying in its proper place: getting out of your driveway in the morning without starting a blood feud with the neighbor and keeping holiday dinners with the family from ending with somebody’s face pressed between the plates of the George Foreman grill.
(c.) 2014, Amy Alkon, all rights reserved. Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, #280, Santa Monica, CA  90405, or e-mail

Jane Austen, revisited
Tuesday, 02 December 2014 15:11

'First Impressions' interweaves tale of literary icon, fictional modern woman — and men


“The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid.”
— Jane Austen


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Author Charlie Lovett presented his new mystery novel, “First Impressions,” on Nov. 10 at Malaprop’s Bookstore/Café in downtown Asheville. 

Lovett spoke about Austen and related topics and read from his work for about 45 minutes. He then fielded questions for more than 15 minutes from those who attended his reading. He finished by signing copies of his recently published second novel. About 25 to 30 people attended 

Lovett, who is from Winston-Salem, praised Malaprop’s, which he called one of the top American independent bookstores — and its book-savvy, eclectic clientele.

He did a reading previously at Malaprop’s after the publication of his debut novel, “The Bookman’s Tale,” which tells of an antiquarian bookseller’s search through a period of 300 years — and the works of Shakespeare — for his lost love.

This time, Lovett was introduced as the author of “First Impressions,” his second novel, which is a mystery involving a fictional portrayal of “the beloved Jane Austen.”

He began his talk by noting that this novel represented a good case for judging a book by its cover. “I really love the cover of this book. I love the fact that you’ll be able to come back to the cover” after reading the novel and appreciate the symbolism.

Unlike “The Bookman’s Tale,” Lovett added, “The good news is ‘First Impressions’ is only set in two different time frames.”

“First Impressions” interweaves two stories — one set in the present day focusing on a young woman named Sophie, while the other stars Austen in 1796, when she was 20 years old and busy writing the first drafts of “Pride and Prejudice” (1813) and “Sense and Sensibility” (1811).

Lovett noted that the book’s subtitle -— “A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen” — summarizes the tale.

As for Austen, he noted that “she was a real person,” who lived from 1775 to 1817 in Steventon, England. She wrote several significant books, including (in her early period) the two that he referenced previously, as well as “Northanger Abbey” (1817).

In Lovett’s novel, Austen’s “love interest,” Richard Mansfield (1716-1796), “was not a real person,” he said.

Regarding his technique for writing about Austen, Lovett said, “I wanted to be sure I had the basic facts about her correct. To write her as a character, I went back to her first period of creative activity — ‘Northanger Abbey,’ ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and ‘Sense and Sensibility.’”

Lovett said he asked himself, “What kind of person wrote these novels? Someone with a great sense of humor, keenly intelligent, quick-witted, bold and quietly revolutionary. That’s the kind of character I tried to write.” He also traveled to where Austen lived and visited the churchyard in which she was buried, interacting with the locals.

He noted that he decided to make her love interest, Mansfield, 60 years her senior so that the relationship is purely an intellectual bonding — and not physical.

In his first scene, where Austen first encounters Mansfield, Lovett read a passage that noted that “neither dullness nor impetuousness were among them.”

Austen told Mansfield that “‘I imagined you reading a book on garden slugs.’”

“‘I actually was reading a novel,’” he said.

To that, Austen said, “‘While I aspire to write novels, you can’t imagine that I’d... read them.’” Lovett noted that, in real life as well as in his book, Austen “thought novels were absolutely horrid.”

In turning back to the book’s cover, Lovett said, “Our other heroine, Sophie Collingwood ... is a fictional person... She’s not a real person, but she’s the main character in ‘First Impressions.’”

He added, “It just so happens that ‘First Impressions’ was Austen’s inital name for her work that eventually became ‘Pride and Prejudice.’” With a smile, Lovett said he checked with his father, who is knowledgeable about Austen — “and he knows” about that title, “so I thought Jane Austen fans would (also) ‘know’ the significance of my novel’s name. So I liked the title a lot.”

He then read a passage from the first scene involving “our modern heroine (Sophie) at Mansfield Park.

“‘She knew every curve of the Thames path.... She spotted a young man under a tree, reading... Slovenly would be the best way to describe him... To go out of one’s way to look bad just seemed rude.’”

The young man uttered some reference to her about “What really gets me is these Austen fan girls....”

“‘Not that it’s any of your business, but I just happen to read Jane Austen,’” Sophie responded.

To Sophie’s amazement the man responded with an Austen quotation about “lounging on the banks of the Thames on a sunny summer day.”

“‘You’re surprised that ... I quoted from (Austen’s) ‘Northanger Abbey,’” he told her, noticing that she was impressd.

“So that’s how Sophie comes to meet Eric,” Lovett said.

In developing the relationships between both sets of characters in his new book, Lovett said he researched “unexpected love.” On Google, he found references to “young people on the beach, or hearts and teddy bears.”

He added, “Sophie has two gentlemen courting after her. It’s possible she might share some character traits with (Austen’s) Mr. Darcy and …. I wanted to explore the fact that love is more than 20-somethings walking on the beach at sunset.”

Further, Lovett said, “The relationship between Jane Austen and (the) Rev. Richard Mansfield... He recognizes in Jane the seeds of brilliance. He encourages her. He becomes someone she can confide in... She can read her work to him. She goes to visit her brother and has a sudden realization. Jane Austen loved Richard Mansfield,” but “it was more intellectual than passionate. Avuncular. There was a meeting of the minds that was rare.”

As for the modern relationship, Lovett said, “So Sophie grows up in this big English manor house. It has a grand library that remains locked. It’s really her Uncle Bertram that introduces her to the world of books. She discovers this world of cracked leather bindings” — and vexing men.

After Lovett’s talk, attendee Emily E. Wood of Asheville, upon request, wrote the following response to what she heard:

“Prior to Malaprop’s promotion of this event, I was unfamiliar with Mr. Lovett & his work. Thus, it was my long admiration of Ms. Austen & the six complete novels she left to posterity that prompted me to attend. It is intriguing that Mr. Lovett has chosen to use Ms. Austen as a main character in his newest novel and refreshing that he has refrained from following in the recent trend of some authors who have borrowed her renowned characters for the creation of spin-off narratives. I am eagerly anticipating an entertaining read sprinkled with mystery & wit from a bibliophilic perspective.”



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