Category Archives: fiction

birthday

DSC_1854night,lt. exp_3462

I hostessed a birthday today. I’ve put together a birthday for Mom for more years than I can remember. I even used to fly to Reno, when she lived there, to do it. Today, the flame on the candle burned brighter than she did. She’s in her 10th year of Alzheimer’s. We woke her from her morning rest to have lunch and birthday. She started to go back to sleep as we sang the song.

DSC_1854night,lt. exp_3462So I packed away candles and food and the table cloth I brought to the place where she resides now. And I watched the aide put her down for a nap, having to diaper her like a child. And my daughter climbed into bed with her to soothe her, for she’s brittle now, must be moved by others.

Her oldest friend called, a quaver in her voice, as she wished Mom happy birthday on the speaker phone and told her she loved her. My son-in-law said, you still have best friends. She didn’t answer. I’m not certain what of the conversation she heard or if she realized it was for her.

What is the meaning of a life? How small it burns at the last. How small we become, feeble ghosts in our own bodies. I do not complain of this. I simply DSC_1854night,lt. exp_3462observe. I’m glad my daughter climbed into bed with her. That’s a meaning of a life, isn’t it?

Happy Birthday, Mom.

trust

DSC_0132I love it when a historian echoes one of my hunches. I read a lot of history: biographies, memoir, overviews, always have since I was a girl and became intrigued with the Plantagenets and Elizabeth I. I think I’m looking for tone, the shading I’ll paint under the story I write. I really don’t know; I just absorb and let the vapor appear filtered through whatever it is that makes up me.

So, I’ve read dozens of biographies about Louis XIV, and only this one—by a woman—and just read this week said what my gut told me as I wrote a piece of Louis’s personal story in Before Versailles. “The young King, entranced by the sincerity and intensity of Louise’s feelings towards him, loved her as he had never loved before, and was never to love again.” (Therese Louis Latour 1924) As I read other biographies, in which Louise de la Valliere is a footnote, glanced at and abandoned by the writers, I always felt there was a unique tenderness in the love affair. And that’s what I wrote.

DSC_0132It’s nice to have my hunch validated, even if the writer isn’t current or well known. I think much of what I do has to do with subtlety. And I must trust subtlety.

Grace notes: Saw a dove sitting in her nest in one of my trees. Nests used to mean much to me; they were a symbol of my own task in this younger life I was living.

buzz

640px-Carpenter_bee copyThe garden is keeping me sane right now while I struggle with the middle of this book. What I’m really struggling with is not knowing. I have a vague plot, but nothing precise because the way I write, character has to lead to the next action. So I have to feel right in the character before I feel right in the action. Whine. Whine. Wine. Please.

640px-Carpenter_bee copyI feel like the carpenter bees that love the cedar of my garage. They drill precise holes and burrow in and out to forage. But the return is never easy. They hover clumsily before the hole they’ve made, can float for hours before they enter. They remind me of landing craft whose pilot can’t make a decision.

So I can’t get in my hole of a story again easily once I leave it. To distract myself from the fear that this time I may not pull a novel together, I garden. I’m in the clean up, prune, unglamorous stage. Sweating. Hauling. But I have focus and a plan. I can see what needs to be done, and I do it. Done. Finished. Finito. New task. Next, please. Straightforward. Right there in front of me. Unmistakeable.

640px-Carpenter_bee copyIf I look back over this blog, I see my whines about my last novel, Before Versailles. As the Duchess always says, Nothing changes and everything does.

Sigh.

draft/other

indexThis summer, I’ll run a class at the Writers League of Texas’s Summer Writing Retreat, August. Here are some questions they asked me about the rough draft of a novel, my topic for the class.

-What is it about the rough draft that’s so difficult? It’s a longer process than a short story/poem/magazine piece. So you stay longer in not knowing. To know the story, you have to write it, messily, badly, imperfectly. Later you may perfect it, but to stay in the uncertainty a long time is trying for most. Including me.

-For you, what’s the most challenging part of the writing process? The most rewarding? The most challenging is the rough drafts, the only place I can begin to know characters and what they’re doing. My first rough draft is always so amazingly bad that it’s hard for me to see what I’ve accomplished, which is usually a plotting piece, what happens when or what should happen but isn’t there yet. Characters emerge (shakily, not fully formed) in the first draft, too. I love editing, when I have enough rough draft to shape, enough rough draft under me like a rock to hold me up as I really craft the story.

index-When is a novel “finished”? I’m tired of it and cannot do another thing to it. This is after several drafts and polishes. Just can’t. Put a fork in me, I’m done. But I also have a really good sense of story, the pace of it, the waves of it. So I know when I’ve got that wave up to the climax of the story and then the falling back to end.

-As a sneak peek into your upcoming class, what’s one invaluable tip for those working through a rough draft? Realize what a draft is and what you’re searching for in one.

-Are you currently “in the rough”? You better believe it, although I’m on a second draft. Bad enough to discourage me, but solid enough to give me wing space to fly into the story at times and “to know.” That’s when I know I have the story, a certain “knowing” of the characters. They no longer feel like cartoon strangers with balloon dialog above their mouths. They are real in some place in me that writes. I know the story will happen–not when it will happen to be finished–just that it will happen and be a story when I have the feeling of knowing the characters, which I am relieved to say has happened in this fifth book.

indexAnd more, writing life this week:

I saw a vivid image of the word “stricken” at a funeral this weekend. It was the pale face of a 14-year-old whose father had died. The expression on his face transfixed me, and I’ve thought about it on and off all week. Yesterday, the word “stricken” floated up, and I knew that’s what I’d seen……

Carpenter bees are in a tizzy at the garage, whose cedar lures them every year to drill nest holes. They hover a dozen at a time, like clumsy landing craft, near the holes. It takes them a long time to find their particular hole, a perfect circle on the outside. They drone. They’re large. This only happens for a few months, and I love it. It helps comfort me as I think about the stricken boy I saw.

april

cropballSitting in the backyard swing under the big, old camphor tree and words came:

A glass of wine—

fat carpenter bees —

wind swirling green-tipped trees—

April heaven in the garden bower…….

Normally I play to turn it into a haiki, but I was too April lazy. It had been awhile since I’d had an impulse of words. I need to leave more time for daydreaming.

Research news: I leave for The Netherlands soon. I meet with a historian in Maastricht to talk about Louis XIV and his war on the Dutch. And we’re going to Paris for the day on the bullet train to see the war museum and an exhibit on the musketeers. And I’ll meet a historian friend of his there who specializes in the musketeers.

Lucky me. One for all and all for one………cropball

back

doll

I’m back. Here, I mean. What happened? I just got tired. And I was sad about my writing. When I’m sad and tired, I don’t have extra energy. This is what this is. Extra energy. A way for me to exercise writing in a different way.

What does “back” mean? Coming here weekly. Attempting not to bore. Opening up a bit to what’s inside. It also means some chores: selecting what to write, writing it, playing with photos and links, if I want to deepen the entry.

At first I blogged because I was supposed to: marketing. Then it became another and quicker and more fun way to express. Then I ran out of steam and felt empty. So I stopped writing here. Kept on with fiction, but stopped here. Now I have a second wind. Let’s see where we go……………

cameilla

strange

siege_image6What a strange life I lead. I am researching details to write a war scene. I’m reading about demi-lunes and covered ways and bastions and ricochet fire. I’ve already researched it, but I’m going over and over it in my mind before I write it. A character will die in this war scene. If I see the siege in my mind, I’ll be able to make a reader see it. I’m in 1673 internally. In 2014, I’m at my computer looking at old drawings and making notes and diagrams. As the wicked witch told Dorothy, what a world, what a world.

return to

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?

black and white

I must go to various groups and talk about Louis XIV and Before Versailles again. It’s a little like reopening a closed book. I have shut the lid on my last book. For me, it’s over. Yet I have the opportunity to present it to the public again, and if I want to do that well–my presentation opens people to becoming readers, my readers–I have to do a little diving in the depths that were Before Versailles. Why did I write about what I did? What excited me?  I have to let Louis charm me again, as he did as he began to take over a story that I thought belonged to either Henriette or Louise. I really liked the place Louis was in his life in the moments I chose to portray, and I geniunely liked the person I envisioned in those moments. He truly was a hero. I’m going to watch Le Roi Danse again or pieces of it anyway. Benoit Magimel, the actor who protrays Louis in this French film, captures the ardor, the innocence, the incipient and polite and steely determination, the attractiveness, the creativity that were all Louis XIV in 1661, that ensnared me as I worked to create a novel in which he was going to be a part but not the whole. And I have to dust off rusty social skills. I’m an oddball, and I am mostly at peace with that, but I do need to protect that part of me when I present to strangers.

How do you prepare yourself when you make presentations? Isn’t it strange, the life of a writer, so solitary and yet these public presentations (if we’re lucky)? How do you resolve the black and white of the  differences?

Wish me luck……

name game

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….