Monday, 4 March 2019

Inspiration by Maria Grace - Guest Post and Excerpt

I'm delighted to be welcoming Maria Grace back to Babblings of a Bookworm to celebrate her latest book. Inspiration is a Pride & Prejudice variation featuring an artist Darcy. I have a lovely long excerpt to share with you, so grab a beverage of your choice and settle in! Let's have the blurb first and then I'll hand over to Maria Grace for the excerpt.

Inspiration by Maria Grace

Book Cover: Inspiration by Maria Grace
Book Description

His muse desires her; she detests him. How will his soul survive?

Gentleman artist Fitzwilliam Darcy had never been able to express himself in words, but with his brushes and paints, he expressed what few men ever could. When his flighty muse abandons him, though, he finds himself staring at blank canvases in a world that has turned bland and cold and grey.

Worried for his friend, Charles Bingley invites Darcy to join him in Hertfordshire, in hopes the picturesque countryside might tempt Darcy's muse to return. The scheme works only too well. His muse returns, with a vengeance, fixated upon the one young woman in the county who utterly detests him.

Will his selfish disdain for the feelings of others drive her and his muse away or can he find a way to please this woman with the power to bring color and feeling back into his world?

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Guest Post from Maria Grace and Excerpt from Inspiration

Thanks so much for having me, Ceri! It’s always great to visit with you.
I’m really excited about Inspiration, a new novella, featuring Darcy as a frustrated artist. It’s a tack I haven’t taken before. The story behind it is a little interesting.
I don’t watch a lot of TV, but when I do, I often find myself watching competition shows like Project Runway or any number of baking shows where the contestants are given an ‘inspiration’ and asked to create something based on that. What’s interesting is that usually the judges ding the contestants if they take the inspiration too literally.
At first that really bothered me—if taking something literally was not being inspired by it, then what was? I started paying attention to the comments and discussion and finally, it began to make sense. Inspiration was about looking deeper, at the elements that made up the whole, the mood it created, the bigger picture it was enmeshed in. And then came the ah-ha moment when I started to get it. I started to see things differently and found ideas lurking in the oddest of places.
Hubby and I were watching one of our favorite romantic comedies Music and Lyrics. The male lead is a singer/songwriter who meets the female lead and discovers she can write lyrics for the music he writes. He can’t create without her, but he offends her and she leaves him. Now that’s an inspiration!
And here’s what came out of it—take a peek at Darcy as an artist tortured by a recalcitrant muse.

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Book Cover: Inspiration by Maria Grace
Nearly a month passed with Darcy scarcely leaving his guest chambers at Netherfield. Canvasses, finished, partially finished, and barely started littered every available space. His sketchbook lay open on the floor, taunting him.
With each additional creative effort, his tensions mounted. The sort of tensions that were energetic and addictive, that kept drawing him back. Fitzwilliam had once seen him in such a state and likened him to an opium eater. There was probably more truth in the comparison that Darcy would have preferred.
At first, it had been a delightful tension of anticipation—a new work in progress, the thrill of the creative, generative act. The wonder at what it would become, what new secrets would he learn from the images that formed beneath his brush. But as the weeks passed, the sweetness slipped away, replaced by bitter frustration.
He stared at the canvas before him and growled, searching the room for what he needed, but naturally it was not there, hiding in the shadows of the late afternoon sun. Bingley had been right. Infuriatingly right. He clutched his paintbrush in a grip that drove the blood from his fingers, and sank down on his stool to cover his face with his hand.
The nymph needed to show her face. The image, the story, was painfully incomplete without a glimpse of the expression she wore as she sat beside that infernal pond, thinking who knew what. He had to know—he simply had to.
Yet she refused to show her face. He scrubbed his face with his hands.
He had seen Miss Bennet’s face, but his muse somehow hid it from him each time he looked for it in his memories. It was there, it had to be. But stubborn minx that she was, she refused to show it to him. He threw aside his brush, allowing it bounce off the drapery as it clattered to the floor. Nicolls, the housekeeper, would probably not appreciate the Prussian blue splotch on the curtains.
He rubbed his temples hard. What he needed was neither a meal, a glass of wine or a bottle of brandy, nor perhaps all of them, as Bingley had suggested.
In truth, none of those would do anything but temporarily distract his misery. He needed to see Miss Elizabeth Bennet once again. Not just to see her, but to sit down and study her at length, to stare at her and memorize every feature, every expression, from the arch of her eyebrow to the line of her jaw, and everything in between. More than food or drink, or possibly even air, everything in him required that he be permitted a prolonged audience with Miss Bennet.
One that could never ever happen.
Bingley seemed to suspect his need, suggesting that they call upon Longbourn. His motive might have been a bit more self-serving that it seemed at first blush; he appeared quite smitten with the eldest Bennet sister. But even if he had gone along with Bingley’s scheme, it would hardly have afforded him the opportunity he needed, and to be so close to his inspiration without being able to absorb her essence would be more than his tortured soul could tolerate.
So, he paced the floor and wrestled with images that would not cooperate. And cursed the day he allowed Bingley to convince him into this ill-advised expedition. Then the rain came in, stealing his light and confining him to his room when Miss Bennet arrived to dine with Bingley’s sisters. Yes, he could have joined them, but Miss Bennet looked just enough like her sister to ensure he would be driven mad. If he were not already there now, which was a distinct possibility.
Worse still, having been in the rain, the delicate maiden became ill and could not be moved from Netherfield. Perhaps he should simply jump from his window to end his suffering. That might be preferable to this anguish. At least the rains had finally stopped and he could take a turn about the gardens. It was not likely to help, but very occasionally the fresh air and natural beauty could assuage his tormented sensibilities for at least a little while.
He buttoned his coat and pulled on his hat, hurrying down the stairs. Hopefully, he could make it out of the house without notice. Civil words—to anyone—were certainly beyond him.
Success! A dozen steps from the front door, he gulped in morning air tasting of old rain and open fields. He closed his eyes and breathed in the matching fragrance—green and loamy and earthy. Sheep in the distance bleated their greetings to one another, and a cow joined the conversation.  Dogs barked to remind them all of their places. Home—this place had just the barest resemblance to home. There was something to be said about the countryside.
“Oh, excuse me!”
His eyes flew open. It could not be. But there she was, standing right in front of him, staring directly into his eyes! How? Why? What would make Providence smile upon him so?
“Mr. Darcy?” Her forehead knotted—a most intricate knot, one to be remembered.
He shook his head and blinked. “Yes, yes. Pray forgive me, I did not expect to see you there.”
“I suppose not. I came to call upon my sister.” She dipped in the barest of curtsies.
“Your sister? Oh, yes, your sister. I did not see her myself, but I heard she fell ill yesterday after the rains.”
“I came to see for myself how she is doing; if perhaps she might be removed to Longbourn for her recovery.”
No, she must not be removed, not for any reason, not if it brought Miss Elizabeth here! “I … yes … that is very good of you.”
“It is what sisters do for one another. Perhaps you might be able to take me to her?”
How could he possibly do that when he did not know what room Miss Bennet occupied? But if he said yes, he could remain in her presence a little longer, and try and capture her likeness with surreptitious glances. “Pray come with me.”
After leaving her in the care of the housekeeper, he joined Bingley and his sisters in the parlor. With any luck, Miss Elizabeth might call upon them before she left Netherfield. A few more moments to memorize her features was worth the small talk. It would not be enough, to be sure, but it was something.
***
Not only did Providence smile upon him, but it outright waved its banner and sang joyous airs over him. Miss Bennet was too sick to be moved, and her sister insisted upon staying with her. To be sure, he could not rejoice that the other young lady was ill, and he would certainly mourn and perhaps even feel guilty if her condition took a turn for the worse. But the opportunity to share the same house with Miss Elizabeth, and fix her features into his mind’s eye was too great a boon to leave unappreciated.
No doubt fortune would extract a heavy price for her favor, but for now he would bask in its glow.
The following morning, he remained in the morning room until Miss Elizabeth made a brief appearance to break her fast. Quite conveniently, the room had been established on the east side of the house, allowing the best of the morning sunlight to filter in through gauzy white curtains. The furnishings though older and a bit heavy did not clutter the space, leaving it conveniently without visual impediments.
Since Miss Elizabeth chose to read, he took advantage of her preoccupation to study the perfect asymmetry of her face. Though aesthetics dedicated perfect symmetry to be ideal in any woman, it was her slight imperfections—almost too slight to notice—that made her so intriguing, so utterly delightful: the singular dimple just on her right cheek; the tiny cleft in her chin, just slightly to the right as well; the tiny beauty mark on her left cheek. 
And her eyes, to say they were merely fine—as Miss Bingley had mockingly called them—would be to insult them. They were exquisite, dark and deep with feeling and intelligence. Worthy of a study of their own.
So worthy in fact, thereafter he took to bringing his journal to the morning room to sketch her eyes while he sipped his coffee. Since it was only eyes and nothing more, he could easily claim they were a general sort of study, not his record against a future without her as a direct reference. Oh, how that thought stung, like a slice to his soul.
Best refrain from considering it whilst she was here, now, in the flesh, lest he fail to use this rare opportunity to its fullest.
In the evenings, after dinner, she would join them, for at least a little while, in the drawing room. There she often read, offering him yet another unparalleled opportunity to record her profile, her expressions in his thoughts and his sketchbook. Perhaps now that Miss Bennet was recovering a bit, she would stay there with him—and the rest of the house party—longer. 
***
Fortune smiled on him once more in the form of Miss Bennet’s recovery which brought both young ladies to the drawing room that night. Gracious, in what manner would payment be exacted for this blessing? No doubt the cost would be dear—but whatever it was, it would be worthwhile.
Darcy lingered in the hallway between the dining room and drawing room. Watching Miss Elizabeth walk, studying her grace, her motion was something not to be missed. She guided her sister into the drawing room, most solicitous of Miss Bennet’s comfort, seeing her well-guarded from cold and draft, conversing with Bingley’s sisters. Odd, though, how Miss Bingley’s attentions seemed to immediately shift toward him when he, Bingley and Hurst entered the room.
Though some would insist Miss Bingley’s powers on conversation were considerable, they always felt more like a performance than an actual interpersonal engagement, making them somewhat off-putting. But then again, many such engagements were off-putting themselves, so perhaps it really was not indicative of very much.
Bingley immediately sought to make himself useful to Miss Bennet. He spent the first half hour piling up the fire lest she should suffer from the cold. At his desire, she moved to the other side of the fireplace, that she might be farther from the door and its dreadful drafts. Then he sat down by her, and talked scarcely to anyone else. If a man could have been more attentive, it was difficult to imagine. Miss Elizabeth, at her needlework in the opposite corner, saw it all with shining eyes.
While Bingley’s display was mawkish at best, it did provide Darcy with the most enchanting expression of Miss Elizabeth’s to capture. Such joy, just pure happiness. Had he ever seen such affection carried only in the eyes? He pulled out his pocket sketchbook and set to work with his pencil. He could not afford to forget any detail of the lady’s quiet delight and enchantment.
It said a great deal about Miss Elizabeth’s character that she could show such quiet joy for her sister without any trace of jealousy on her own behalf. Yes, that was a very pleasing trait in a woman—a beautiful one. He jotted a small note to himself to that effect. Sometimes it was useful to know what his models were thinking as he painted them. Somehow it made the expressions more engaging.
But truly what was she thinking. Why was she happy for her sister? Was it the very advantageous nature of a match with Bingley? Certainly, that would be what her mother would suggest. Perhaps it was best not to continue thinking along those lines.
“I say Mr. Darcy, I cannot make it out from here. Are you reading or are you writing—or is it drawing that you are about?” Miss Bingley looked up from her book and stared at him. She probably had not even been reading it in the first place. She hardly seemed the type intent upon improving her mind in such a way
“I often find it helpful to make notes for future reference.” He returned to his sketch. Was Miss Bingley quick enough to realize he had offered no answer to her question?
The tiny dimple that creased Miss Elizabeth’s cheek suggested she was.
“How pleasant it is to spend an evening in this way! I declare after all there is no enjoyment like reading! How much sooner one tires of anything other than a book! When I have a house of my own, I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Miss Bingley shut her book rather loudly.
Darcy clamped his jaws shut. The thought of Miss Bingley refusing a suitor on the count of an insufficient library was one of the few things funny enough to make him want to laugh aloud.
From near the fireplace, Bingley’s voice rose just enough for the rest of the room to hear. “I do so love a ball.”
Miss Bingley leaned back and looked over her shoulder at Bingley. “By the bye, Charles are you really serious in considering a dance at Netherfield? I would advise you, before you determine on it, to consult the wishes of the present party. I am much mistaken if there are not some among us to whom a ball would be rather a punishment than a pleasure.”
Bingley sought Darcy’s gaze and rolled his eyes. “If you mean Darcy, he may go to bed before it begins, if he chooses—but as for the ball, it is quite a settled thing. As soon as Nicholls has made white soup enough, I shall send round my cards.”
Miss Bingley looked directly at Darcy. “I should like balls infinitely better, if they were carried on in a different manner; but there is something insufferably tedious in the usual process of such a meeting. It would surely be much more rational if conversation instead of dancing made the order of the day.”
Had Miss Bingley any idea of how ridiculous she sounded? Something in the way Miss Elizabeth’s hid a dainty cough in her hand suggested that she might.
“Much more rational, my dear Caroline, I dare say, but it would not be near so much like a ball.”
Miss Bingley’s eyes darted about as though she were looking for some sort of retort, but finding none, she got up and walked about the room. Her figure was elegant, and she walked well enough, but hardly enough out of the ordinary to be worth taking note. If ever he needed to render such a character, he could find her kind aplenty in any assembly in London.
She meandered across the room. “Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room.  I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”
Elizabeth glanced at Darcy and agreed. No, it was not possible that she understood his deepest desire and was acceding to it, was it? No, it could not be. Providence was pouring out all it had upon him.
“Would you care to join us, Mr. Darcy?” Miss Bingley’s eyebrow arched suggestively.
And lose this opportunity to observe? “I must decline. I can imagine but two motives for their choosing to walk up and down the room together, with either of which motives my joining you would interfere.”
Miss Bingley leaned in close to Miss Elizabeth. “What could he mean? I am dying to know what could be his meaning”
“Depend upon it, he means to be severe on us, and our surest way of disappointing him will be to ask nothing about it.” Miss Elizabeth turned her face aside and tried to walk on, but Miss Bingley retarded her progress.
“No, no, I insist upon knowing. Mr. Darcy do explain yourself.”
He leaned forward, closing his sketchbook. “I have not the smallest objection to explaining.  You either choose this method of passing the evening because you are in each other's confidence, and have secret affairs to discuss, or because you are conscious that your figures appear to the greatest advantage in walking. If the first, I should be completely in your way and if the second, I can admire you much better as I sit by the fire.” He returned to his sketchbook to commit his admiration to paper before he lost his unique approbation to stare at them as much as he cared.
Afterall, how many times did such an opportunity come to one? He dare not allow a moment of it to be missed.
Miss Bingley gasped and stared at him. “Oh! shocking! I never heard anything so abominable. How shall we punish him for such a speech?”
“Nothing so easy, if you have but the inclination,” Elizabeth glanced back at him, her eyes gaining a heretofore unseen fire. “Tease him; laugh at him. Intimate as you are, you must know how it is to be done.”
Spectacular! She was spectacular!
“But upon my honor I do not. I do assure you that my intimacy has not yet taught me that.”
Miss Bingley pressed her hand to her chest. Her bulging eyes suggested she was truly surprised as he had never seen her before. “Tease calmness of temper and presence of mind! No, no—I feel he may defy us there. And as to laughter, we will not expose ourselves, if you please, by attempting to laugh without a subject.”
“Mr. Darcy is not to be laughed at! That is an uncommon advantage, and uncommon I hope it will continue, for it would be a great loss to me to have many such acquaintance. I dearly love a laugh.” A musical laugh followed as if to prove a point.
What it possible to capture such a sound in paint?
He cleared his throat. “Miss Bingley, has given me credit for more than can be. The wisest and the best of men, nay, the wisest and best of their actions, may be rendered ridiculous by a person whose first object in life is a joke.”
“Certainly,” Elizabeth turned away from Miss Bingley and faced him directly, “there are such people, but I hope I am not one of them. I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good. Follies and nonsense, whims and inconsistencies do divert me, I own, and I laugh at them whenever I can. But these, I suppose, are precisely what you are without.”
How could one resist the challenge, the flame in her eyes, the pointedness of her voice? He leaned toward her. “Perhaps that is not possible for anyone. But it has been the study of my life to avoid those weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule.”
“Such as vanity and pride.”
“Yes, vanity is a weakness indeed. But pride—where there is a real superiority of mind, pride will be always under good regulation.”
Elizabeth turned away to hide a smile. Whatever did she mean by that? Did she agree with his statement or did she find it somehow amusing and laughable? Would he ever know?
“Your examination of Mr. Darcy is over, I presume, and pray what is the result?” Miss Bingley’s voice took on an uneasy edge.
 “I am perfectly convinced by it that Mr. Darcy has no defect. He owns it himself without disguise.” Miss Elizabeth’s gaze remained fixed on him.
“No,” Darcy stood—did not one rise when challenged? His heart beat a little faster—who would have suspected his muse had such wit. “I have made no such pretension. I have faults enough, but they are not, I hope, of understanding. My temper, I dare not vouch for. It is, I believe, too little yielding, certainly too little for the convenience of the world. I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought, nor their offences against myself. My feelings are not puffed about with every attempt to move them. My temper would perhaps be called resentful. My good opinion once lost is lost forever.”
Gracious why had he said that? Why had he said any of it? He never talked of himself, and certainly never in such a way!
“That is a failing indeed! Implacable resentment is a shade in a character.” Miss Elizabeth folded her arms over her chest, frost tinging her voice. “But you have chosen your fault well. I really cannot laugh at it. You are safe from me.”
“There is, I believe, in every disposition a tendency to some particular evil, a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome.” Why could he not give up this conversation?
“And your defect is a propensity to hate everybody.”
“And yours is willfully to misunderstand them.” His face flushed and his breath came a little faster. No one, particularly a woman had ever spoken to him so.
 “Do let us have a little music.”  Miss Bingley harrumphed and hurried to the pianoforte.
The instrument was opened, and Darcy returned to his sketches. It took all his strength not to look at her, to stare and study the fiery goddess before him, but one did not stare at such a figure without getting burned.
But perhaps it was too late already. Perhaps this was the price of the muses’ favor: the danger of paying Miss Elizabeth too much attention.
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I hope you enjoyed this peek. If you’d like more, you can find Inspiration at all major e-book sellers. If you’d like to catch up on the short stories I mentioned, you can find them at RandomBitsofFascination.com.
Thanks!
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Buy Links

I'm pleased to be able to tell you that this book is available to buy now, with an excellent choice of places to buy.

Amazon US / Amazon UK / Amazon CA / All other sellers / Add to Goodreads Shelf

Inspiration by Maria Grace

About the Author

Author Maria Grace
Maria Grace has her PhD in Educational Psychology and is a 16-year veteran of the university classroom where she taught courses in human growth and development, learning, test development and counseling. None of which have anything to do with her undergraduate studies in economics/sociology/managerial studies/behavior sciences.

She has one husband and one grandson, earned two graduate degrees and two black belts, raised three sons, danced English Country dance for four years, is aunt to five nieces, is designing a sixth Regency costume, blogged seven years on Random Bits of Fascination, has outlines for eight novels waiting to be written, attended nine English country dance balls, and shared her life with ten cats.

Her books, fiction and nonfiction, are available at all major online booksellers.  

She can be contacted at:

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Would you like to win a copy of this book? Well, if you are quick you can enter the giveaways that Maria Grace is running for Inspiration. Each of them has another excerpt for you to enjoy too - check them out here:

Random Bits of Fascination / Austen Variations / From Pemberley to Milton

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12 comments:

  1. Wonder if Caroline has had a peak of the paintings

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    1. That's a great question! I have a hunch Darcy likes to keep his work private.

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  2. I do so love this excerpt. Darcy giving more and more thanks to providence for allowing him to study Elizabeth :)
    I will definitely be reading this shortly. Thank you so much for sharing this.

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  3. What an intriguing premise!
    Have heard very positive things about this book. I look forward to reading it.
    Best of luck with it,Maria.
    Cheers for hosting,Ceri.

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  4. Yep, this one looks sensational. Glad to get that excerpt. It was the first opportunity I've had to check this latest of Maria's out. :)

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  5. I followed this story on the RBoF website and grabbed the pre-order as soon as it was available. I LOVED this story. There is just something more to an artistic Darcy. He has the artistic vocabulary and inner dialogue that's so swoon worthy. However, his social skills are still set at naught. Poor man. I loved this story. Thanks for sharing. Don't include me in the drawing.

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  6. I do want to read this book. I enjoyed the excerpt. Thanks for sharing.

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  7. Thanks for stopping by, Sheila!

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