I hate puzzles.

This goes back to my childhood, to those achievement tests the schools insisted you take. My bane (besides spelling) was spatial relations. Those line drawings that you had to fold into a box mentally were the downfall of my existence. Everything else was excellent. Then there were spatial relations where seventy-five percent of my age cohort got it better than me.

I could not do that task. Oh, I could visualize an empty room filled with boxes of all sizes and shapes. I could move those containers. I could even open them and see what was inside. Please, though, do not give me a pallet of corrugated flats and say, ‘What will these boxes look like?’ I could imagine a world and bend it to my needs.

So not taking 1,000 pieces and making a picture was no loss for me.

I swiftly moved from that to trying to understand my world. I learned I was a visual person and required an outlet for that creativity. Photography fit well, and after my father gifted me my first little camera when I was eight years old, I dove headlong into it. Boxes of processed slides (much cheaper back in the day than color prints) filled my bedroom.

The visual stimulated another part of my brain, the one controlling the written words. Describing what I saw enabled me to bring others the world spread out on that great gray plane behind my eyelids. My first real story was composed in Tenth Grade English (a pitiful science fiction morality tale about a man who messed with the water molecule).

But, puzzles…

Fast forward over forty-five years to my first toe dip into fiction—specifically Austenesque fiction. While being a journalist or writing advertising copy did require me to solve “puzzles,” those were more questions to which my work provided an answer.

Fiction is a different puzzle. Often—usually—there is a complete picture of a character or a plot, but it is jumbled like an unsolved Rubik’s Cube. The solution exists in a way, but the question remains about the component parts needed to make that full portrait. My biggest concern falls back to those early box-folding exercises. The I would get a box, but it would not be the box imagined by the test designer.

Is it authorial presumption to suggest that Darcy, Elizabeth, Anne, or Wentworth, whom I imagine, is the result of a single path? If we break them (or the plot) into their parts, can those pieces be reassembled to obtain the same effect? Or will they come together with a different image?

In the end, I conclude that there are a hundred paths to arrive at a Darcy, Elizabeth, Anne, or Wentworth, but only one to attain the singular nature of the characters I see.

Hence the puzzle. If chunks of plot and person are spread out in front of me, which pieces (remember that you do not have to use every single one) become what I see?

In my current Work-In-Progress, The Sailor’s Rest, I am working with Austen’s iterations of Darcy, Elizabeth, Anne, and Wentworth as starting points. My goal was to see how these four change as circumstances push against them. That presents a series of puzzles, of problems, that form the arc between the people we see at the ends of Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion. How will the women respond to the stress of the original plot crux? How will Darcy and Wentworth rise their altered circumstances? What pieces come together to achieve the answers?

I no longer despise these puzzles because I now understand that they are daubs of color on my palette that I can spread to build that picture that explains everything. These boxes aren’t those divined by another. They are mine alone, which I present to readers to see into my imagination.

Please enjoy these reunion scenes from The Sailor’s Rest that show the binary solutions for the tetrarchy. The path to the safe harbor had demanded thousands of pieces. Now they had come together.

Giveaway Opportunity:

Comment below By February 24 for a chance to win a complete set (US or UK codes) of Audible performances of the Bennet Wardrobe (eight volumes) encompassing the arc of the Wardrobe.


These excerpts are ©2023 by Donald P. Jacobson. Reproduction is prohibited.

From Chapter 35

Elizabeth greedily looked at the washtub, slowly being filled by a cabin boy, but then she shook away her avarice. Another needed its transformative properties. A healing mere, the pool might cleanse the body, but the dunking was destined to be a purification for a bruised soul.

Sophie smiled and followed Wilkinson out the door.

Elizabeth’s grime could wait. Darcy needed immediate attention lest the stain set and damage a cherished heirloom.


Scent penetrated and defined the realm in which he stood; lavender atop sage it was. As he returned to the world and the ravages of the day receded, he took in great gusts of nova caeli.[i]

His eyes were closed, but the lids unclenched. He, Darcy—Smith had been abandoned on Persephone’s gundeck—enjoyed light’s flickering passage from without that left veined afterimages.

His hands were grasped, first one and then the other. Sharp, coarse horsehair bristles worried them front and back. A stylus tenderly scrapped beneath his nails, releasing a coppery tincture that lingered for a moment, called up sentiments that quickly evaporated but, never-the-less, left a twinge in his belly.

A soft soprano hummed in accompaniment to the movements of a wet cloth about his torso. Warm water sloshed around his shanks as liquid sheeted from his skin.

The bath maiden—indeed, this was a woman’s touch—was fastidious in her attentions, working one section of his back and belly from an unfeeling commonness into tingling awareness. He could not recall when he had last been so connected to the world around him except…

At some point, he realized that he was nearly naked, wearing nothing but his slops which hung damply around his narrowed hips before this lady. Yet, there was all that was Vestal and nothing Cyprian about his situation. His arousal was a renewal of spirit, ethereal, not base, bathed as he was in soft light and peaceful aromatics.

A step from the Heavenly throne he was.

A gentle kiss on the inside of his right shoulder blade gave permission for his hands to reach behind and capture handfuls of a loving angel’s body to squeeze her against his spine.

His reward was trembling tears that salted his toughened hide.

Eyes now open, he turned and gathered his weeping life into a caress that had been months in the making.


From Chapter 37

She turned and spied his broad shoulders that defined a captain upon his quarterdeck. Then she quickly looked away, back over the prow, the foremast’s bulk insulating him from her eyes’ pressure. No, she could not impose herself. He would come to her when his heart could make itself heard. Until then, she would feed off his thrumming presence to draw solace and limn her world with love’s light.

Then, she stole another glance astern. He was gone!

Her eyes closed, Anne cast about her for he who again had been lost.

There: the scent of him, missing until Naiad raised Persephone

Not beyond a blue horizon. But here.

Pitch’s gummy dark.

Hemp’s browned grass.

Saltpeter’s acrid tang.

On land, she would have added the crispness of a gust skimming above rock-tossed surf, but those three told her he was near. A calmness bloomed in her center as she basked in the unique pool that described her Frederick much as the sound of her father’s footsteps signaled his and nobody else’s arrival.

The wind plucked at her shortened curls.

Then a finger captured one and twirled it to wrap itself around the digit, which, if crooked, would summon her from any distance. She tipped her head into his cupped palm, nuzzling her cheek into the horny skin, hard against the downy softness of her face. She felt the flush begin where his touch awakened her being, exploding outward to envelop her with a surge of incontestable need.

Am I being wanton to allow myself to succumb to what I have refused to countenance to avoid desire’s longing pain? This urge is God’s way of telling me that Frederick is my only. There never was one before him, for I surely never have been transported as I am now.

I am not a religious woman, but if a whisper in my ear said that this was a foretaste of Heaven, I would unquestionably believe that an angel had visited me.

Her journey through the wilderness since the Year Nine had been a test, a torment broken into two parts by a snowlit ridge. The first ordeal had withered when exposed to love’s uncompromising glare. Then she had been subjected to six months of extraordinary happiness, glorious with first impressions and discoveries. Her ancient self, so calcified from disuse, fractured and flaked away as she steeled herself against doubt from without—and within.

Anne’s bliss, that honied cup, was snatched away as her world collapsed into this most recent, agonizingly brief but remarkably deep chasm. The old Anne would have vanished into her comfortable warren like a plump coney seeking shelter from an eternal winter. Heartdeath had brushed its stygian cloak against her. But for the companionship of Lizzy, Sarah, Annie, and Sophie, Anne would have fitted out her chambers at the Great House at Uppercross, where she would poorly manage Mary’s children.  

The old images, long clutched but never cherished, crumbled like a drying sandcastle, proving their weakness against the glory that was Wentworth’s love for her.

His calluses dragged against her cheek as she turned her face into the fondling cushion to bestow a soft lingering kiss.


[i] Fresh air. Darcy is highly educated. He might think in Latin. Mr. Bennet, of an older generation, likely would have thought in Greek.

18 responses to “Does the Picture Match the Box?”

  1. Tasha Barefield Avatar
    Tasha Barefield

    My two favourite JA stories I can’t wait to see what you’ve done with these 4 wonderful characters!

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      I am looking forward to

      1. Don Jacobson Avatar
        Don Jacobson

        I am looking forward to your reaction to the entire book.

  2. Regina Jeffers Avatar

    Also, my two favorite Austen tales, though I truly believe Austen’s voice is so much more mature in Persuasion, than it is in Pride and Prejudice.
    As to puzzles, I was part of the Sputnik generation where those of us with high IQs were taken out of music and art and placed in advanced math and science degrees. I started college at 15. Anyway, I am relatively quick with word puzzles of all sorts, but for some reason not with Scrabble. I play it well, bu I have never mastered it. Concentration.
    I have to tell you, I laughed at parts of your tale. When my son was in 3rd grade, he was still ambidextrous – had not chosen a dominate hand nor foot. Clumsy as all get out. Unfortunately, such was the same year the school started teaching d’nealian handwriting. Very strict on size and shape and slant of letters. My son would form some letters with his right hand and some with his left, which flabbergasted his teacher (who I must say was intimidated by me for I was on the committee overseeing the State exit exams for 4th, 8th, and 11th grades. LOL!) Anyway, she wanted my boy tested for special ed. I told her she was crazy, not using that particular word, but you understand my dismay. However, I allowed him to be tested. He turned out to have a high IQ with a tendency for perfectionism. “I do not know from whom he received those ‘tendencies.’” she said snickering all the way home.
    Looking forward to reading your latest creation.

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      Thank you RJ

  3. Krystall Lawlor Avatar
    Krystall Lawlor

    I enjoyed your blog post, what an investing way to look at constructing a story! I have not written yet, but I think of doing so often!

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      Thank you. I truly enjoy the entire process

    2. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      We all have our procedural models. Whatever works best for you.

  4. Laura Nichols Avatar
    Laura Nichols

    Where the 3-D issue got me was in organic chemistry, where you were supposed to visualize what the structures looked like. The kids nowadays must have it easier – surely a computer program could let you see and manipulate structures. And if there isn’t one, there should be!

    “Her ancient self, so calcified from disuse” is an interesting way to look back on Anne’s life after breaking up with Wentworth, hiding from grief. On the other hand, I can see her layering shell upon shell to protect herself from hurt, until the hurt turns into the pearl of their renewed love. (Sorry if that’s too mixed a metaphor!)

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      So odd…I can visualize three dimensional structures in an empty room. Hope you enjoy the book!

    2. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      Love your last paragraph!

  5. Linda A. Avatar
    Linda A.

    I’m actually really good with puzzles, but I don’t like the Rubik’s cube for some reason. Proofreading errors just sort of jump out at me. I’m visual to the point that I need to read something in order to absorb it rather than having it read to me. I start tuning it out, so prefer ebooks. We each have our strengths. Lovely photos.

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      I see my stories as puzzles which have multiple solutions. The key is to focus nd the one that best fits.

  6. Christina Avatar

    Well now, Elizabeth and Darcy on a ship? More Anne and Wentworth? All four together? Sign me up!

  7. Don Jacobson Avatar
    Don Jacobson

    Ahoy matey! Hope you do enjoy my speculation.

  8. Linda Avatar

    I am terribly with puzzles but love them in stories.
    Love love love the wardrobe stories. Love Janette stories.
    Keep them coming.

    1. Don Jacobson Avatar
      Don Jacobson

      Thank you so much for your fandom. Sailor’s Rest is not really a puzzle although problems and solutions play a role. For me, the creation of the story is the puzzle, one that is never linear and two-dimensional. Pieces appear (like Wentworth’s boat cloak in Ch1) early on which are important later (Ch10).

  9. randi615 Avatar

    It’s interesting that different analogies/comparisons will resonate with different people. I am not at all spatial, so relating to your analogy of building a story like a puzzle, especially a 3D puzzle, is difficult for me. OTOH, yesterday I watched a YT video of a college classmate (c1987!) who is now a professor at Eastman School of Music and a prolific composer. He was describing his process in composing music, sharing his notes on screen for a particular choral piece. I kept thinking as I watched that in some ways it seemed much like fiction writing. I guess music is more of a natural “language” to me than puzzles 😊 Keep up the great work, Don!

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