I have old faithfuls, books I return to, books I read the way a baby sucks a pacifier. One of my pacifiers is almost any regency by Georgette Heyer. I have paperbacks of hers so old that the pages have to be rubber-banded in a heap. I love her plucky heroines, the sometimes truly witty banter between characters, the very sweet romances. There is a lot of subtle humor in character interactions, which amuses me even more each time I read it. I also reread John le Carre’s Little Drummer Girl about once a year. I love the heroine he’s created in this book, the way he describes and builds character, and the truly gripping plot. He is a master of plotting and character. I reread To Kill a Mockingbird pretty often; the underlying tenderness of the story takes me, though I find the African American characters a bit stereotyped, but what do I know. Maybe for 1930s Southern America, they are not stereotyped at all. It’s just that they’re shaded all one tone, and the others aren’t. I love Winston Graham’s Poldark Saga, the first six books. He’s a fine, fine historical novelist, and Ross Poldark has my heart, as does Demelza. I adore Dr. Naomi Ramen‘s Kitchen Table Wisdom. Again, the scope of heart in her collections of stories about people gravely ill and those who serve them is huge. It’s a wise book, too, nuggets about leading a deeper life scattered like bread crumbs. I love Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek, though having read it so many times, I now see plot flaws, but I just never mind them because I like the character of Dona and her story so much, and the marvelous dreamy quality of du Maurier’s prose. Anything I like ( I’m almost always reading), I now put up on my shelf in Goodreads. But the ones listed here are my tried and true go-back- tos for a needed mental rest. My husband doesn’t understand it, and I can’t explain it, except that they never fail to comfort me, I never fail to not like them, I never fail to be amused again or touched again…..and that’s special…….
It occurs to me that I learn a little more about writing each time I read these favorites; I learn on a level I’m not aware of…..
Do you reread? What? And why? Or why not?
Posted in Before Versailles, books, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, inspiration, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, romance writing, story, story and theme, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged books, books I really like, Daphne du Maurier, fiction, Harper Lee, John Le Carre, what I read, what inspires me, Winston Graham
Marquee was a word that came up at the Historical Novel Society Conference I attended in June. Should the main character be a marquee character or not….in other words, someone historically famous? Yes, seemed to be the consensus of New York (as in agents and editors). Philippa Gregory‘s best selling Tudor novels are the source of this.
I had just written a marquee novel, but not on purpose. I wrote it because it was what had to be written in the unfolding saga of the Tamworth family, this family who lives so strongly in my imagination, Barbara and Alice and Richard and Tony and others. Even though no Tamworths were in my marquee novel (there was a slight reference in the draft that was part of a larger scene I ended up cutting), Louis XIV had been brooding way in the background, waiting for me. Somehow, it had to do with this family, with the huge outside forces in their lives.
And now, as I walk carefully around the nesting egg of the next novel, it won’t have a marquee character carrying the story, though likely Louis* and Athenais and Louise will have their places in it. It will likely be similar to Dark Angels, fictional characters reacting to or intimate with actual historical figures. (I adored Charles Stuart and his wayward family. It was great fun to write about them all.)
I just believe in story. The story within drives me. What do you believe in? What makes a good story? A story you want to read? Should the main character be a name, if it’s historical? Why?
*More from my new favorite film Le Roi Danse….I love the actor who plays Louis….
Posted in Before Versailles, books, creativity, Dark Angels, fame, fiction, historical fiction, history, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, story, theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged "Louis XIV", "Louise de la Valliere", Historical Novel Society, Karleen Koen, Madame de Montespan, Philippa Gregory, what to write next, why I write what I do, writing fiction
Last time I wrote about what was not true in my latest novel (or in other words, the fiction in the fiction), so here’s what is true in Before Versailles……when Louis XIV* was 22 years old, his mentor died, and he was brought face to face with the fact that someone else in the kingdom was quite powerful, perhaps more powerful than Louis himself. What he did with that fact is interesting even to this day. During that same time period, Louis had been married for one year to a Spanish princess, and for that year, he’d been faithful. But he began a friendship with his new sister-in-law, an English princess who had always lived in France, that quickly turned to flirtation, and maybe more. History becomes quite unclear on this point.
To me, all of the above, from powerful men to painful decisions to powerful flirtation, is the stuff of drama, the stuff of story. And Louis’s only brother and heir was gay. And that brother’s best friend was also in love with the English princess. More drama. And Louis himself fell in love as he grappled with power and how much was truly his…..all of this in a period of four months in the summer air of the summer palace of Fontainebleau. And so I tried to make a story of that, of young people in extraordinary positions who were unfurling in all manner of ways. They were the Hollywood of their time, a real historical reality show. I thought for a long time the story belonged to the two key women in the excitement, but it didn’t; it belonged to Louis. And once I realized that, I had so much, passion, fear, ambition, treachery, love, betrayal, competition, tenderness; those emotions and qualities were really there, and it was my job to make them discernable again, to polish the tarnished silver of another century and show everyone its gleam……..
For me, it’s always about the people in the story….what do you think? What pleases you in fiction?
*A marvelous snippet from YouTube from Le Roi Danse that shows a young Louis XIV…enjoy…..
Posted in Before Versailles, books, character, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, history, life, Now Face to Face, romance writing, story, story and character, story and family, story and life, story and love, story and theme, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged "Henriette of England", "Louis XIV", Cardinal Mazarin, French history, Karleen Koen, the chateau of Fontainebleau, the Comte de Guiche, Versailles, what makes a book work for me, writing historical fiction
“Every action, every item she writes about is incorrect,” a not-fan has posted on Amazon. Now that’s not quite fair. A lot of Before Versailles is true. But then again, to be fair, some of it isn’t. Some is conjecture; some is guess; some of it is just out and out made up.
As far as I know, the boy in the iron mask wasn’t there. But my theory is, if Alexandre Dumas can play with tantalizing historical whatsit, so can I. There was something, a man in a silk mask, perhaps an iron mask. But no one knows who he was or why he was imprisioned. Voltaire conjectured that he was Louis XIV‘s real father. And the Mazarinades are absolutely true, word for word…..however…..I don’t know if they were secretly recopied and delivered to Louis in 1661. But it made for some great intrigue and gave me a wonderful way to explain his complex and treacherous past. And as for Louis’s real father….well, Voltaire–the literary light of the 18th century– thought there might be someone else other than Louis XIII, and there’s a contemporary scholar who has brought some proof forward that it’s possible Mazarin was in Paris at the right time. And the queen and king were estranged, not for a little bit, but for years. Years. And she committed treason the year of Louis’s conception. And the king was quite ill and preferred his own sex………so, forgive me if I put two and two together and get a number that could be four. And maybe the viscount and the lovely Princess de Monaco didn’t become lovers, but in my story world they couldn’t keep their hands off each other. And I did make up the names of the pets and am most proud of Odalisque. O.K. I guess I just have to plead guilty. It’s true. I write fiction.
Posted in Before Versailles, books, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, history, Houston, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, sensuality, story, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged "Louis XIV", Alexandre Dumas, Anne of Austria, fiction writing, Karleen Koen, Louis XIII, Mazarin, non fans, the man in the iron mask, the three musketeers, Versailles, Voltaire, what is fiction, why I write what I do
Today I feel a lovely thing, a minute flame inside that will likely grow into the next novel. It wasn’t an idea of the novel flame, but a willingness to even attempt the project flame. For two Saturdays I’ve been talking about the place of creativity among the aspects of writing a novel. Perhaps that moved my own out of its cave. It helped that atop a wonderful class and meeting a new set of wonderful people, I was reading Ellen Gilchrist‘s The Writing Life.
I talked about the care and feeding of the writer within in my class. So how will I feed my suddenly willing to try again writer? By collaging blank journals. By reading nourishing fiction, which means good fiction of any genre. By going to the museum to see both Tutankhamun and an exhibit about the art of living in the eighteenth century. By creating dinner parties for people I like. By continuing to go to the Archway Gallery readings to absorb the art and wit and talent of regulars who read there. I must respect and guard that very sweet, very curious, very daring, but very much wanting to please wild and shy child inside from which the stories come.
I will blow on the tiny little campfire flame the wild child just lit and make the fire grow fierce so she can dance wildly and with abandon around it, so the bears that lurk in the woods will stay away, afraid of the flame, afraid of me.
Posted in Before Versailles, books, creativity, Dark Angels, fame, fiction, inspiration, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing process
Tagged angst from the writing world, being a writer, feeling inspired again, Karleen Koen, picking one's self up after being published, starting another book, writing fiction
I’ve spent the week being an 11-year old boy wandering through Shanghai separated from my parents as the Japanese invade and World War II begins in the Pacific. I’ve seen events no child should see, but often does, and I’ve retained a skewed innocence and sense of wonder in a world closed in and bearing its teeth to survive. There’s nothing like a really good book, is there? I picked up J.G. Ballard‘s Empire of the Sun, which had been sitting around for years on a shelf, and finally opened it. And there I was, so gripped by his story (mainly his own) and his writing style that all week long I had another place to live in my mind. It wasn’t a pretty place; people on the edge of survival and dealing with inhuman behavior don’t behave in heroic ways….though, again, some do. His story was so intense that I would have to pause between chapters and take a deep breath. And, of course, I’ve been mulling it over since I finished it, the way connoisseurs breathe in fine wine or brandy, thinking about war, about savagery, about what we will do to survive, about what I might do in a world gone mad, about why we say inhuman for cruel, unimaginable behavior when the behavior seems indeed a part of being human….and then going to walk outside to see two tiny rose blossoms opening in the soft, safe world in which I really reside….
(A little audio of the book by the delicious Jeremy Irons…..)
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, history, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, story and character, story and theme, theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing
Tagged Christian Bale, Empire of the Sun, J.G. Ballard, Shanghai, Steven Spielberg, survival, what will I do to survive, WWII
To continue my poet Mary Oliver* theme: which is my work which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished….I forget how to do this simple task but Youngest- Grandson-not-quite-two reteaches me…..astonished each time he visits at the goldfish in the pond, wanting to feed them, wanting to smell the fish food over and over, never tiring of either, wanting to put leaf hats on the little fat stone buddha’s head, saying hat each time, waiting for the carpenter bees, saying bee loudly when we see one, wanting me to sing yet again, be my little baby bumble bee, calling mosquitoes bees and laughing like mad when I correct him and say, mosquito, mosquito…..it’s the same thing each and every time…..my simple treasures are a miracle to him, and I am reminded anew–as the significance of this anniversary day points out–what treasures I possess**…..
Another treasure: the garden muse allowed a prose/poem to burble up. It had been so long I’d forgotten I did this…..had an attack of inspiration. Here it is: A small kamakasi hurtles toward me, wings fluttering in rapid beats. No rising sun on the side, this small missile is nonetheless intent, zooming toward the next feeder…..
Details: I saw my first hummingbird (I’m trying to lure them with feeders) on Tuesday and almost didn’t recognize what it was until it was a foot away. Two days later, I’m seating at an Archway Gallery reading, listening, and there the words are. I scribble them on the paper listing the readers.
So….what’s inspired you lately?
*Hit this to hear Mary Oliver read…..**Hit above on words treasures I possess to hear treasure……
Posted in Before Versailles, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, Houston, inspiration, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and character, Through A Glass Darkly, writing process
Tagged 9/11, bees, being inspired, grandchildren, loving where you're at, Mary Oliver, mosquitos, poetry, the muse
In reading an article about Helen Mirren in a magazine, something she said about sexuality caught my attention:
Sexuality for girls is so complex and tricky. I was never beautiful, but as a young woman, beautiful or not is sort of irrelevant. Being a sexual object is mortifying and irritating, yet it’s giving you power–an awful power that you’ve done nothing to deserve, a powerless power. I think some young women fall in love with that power…
The quote stopped me because the power of that power was what I was trying to portray in Princess Henriette in Before Versailles and hopefully portrayed in Rene de Keroualle in Dark Angels…..the heady excitement of knowing you’re noticed, of seeing your effect upon men….how that notice can become so needed….the power of beauty. Mirren contends that is may not even be beauty; it may simply be sexuality, a girl’s sexuality that makes her desired by the other…..I love the articulation of “an awful power that you’ve done nothing to deserve.” Is it truly powerless? I don’t think so.
What do you think about sexuality in girls on the verge of becoming women? What do you think about the power Mirren speaks of? Did you have it? How did you navigate it?
Ah, the stuff of novels for me…….
Posted in Before Versailles, books, character, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Karleen Koen, love, Now Face to Face, sensuality, story and character, story and love
Not knowing is a place I don’t like to land in. I know with my rational mind that there’s really nothing I know for certain, nothing I have or own that is for mine forever, guaranteed, not even relationships. I can discuss the theory of this quite beautifully at some dinner party or with a friend. But being in it again, as I am now, is distressing. How I long for security. How I long for permanence. How I long for knowing. I don’t know what to do about my mother, who has Alzheimer’s. Continue her living with family or move her to a facility? I don’t know what to do about my career, whose heartbeat I can’t find these days. I am Tennessee Williams’ cat on a hot tin roof, my mind pacing, jittering from one thought to another, searching for solutions, searching for a hold I know isn’t there.
I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.
That’s Rilke. And here’s another suggestion: Friend, don’t let the world run you crazy. The world ain’t even honking at you. You just think it is……..
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Be still, I guess. Be still and valiant in the unknowing….
Posted in Before Versailles, creativity, Dark Angels, fame, family, fiction, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, mothers, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged impatience with life, mothers, not knowing what to do, Rainer Maria Rilke, Tennessee Williams, waiting for answers, writing career