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
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
Sometimes I leaf through my journal looking for the little chunks of observation that reside there. This happened when I was working at the University of Houston. I was walking across the street to my car when a woman sitting with her child at the bus stop caught my eye……..it’s been on the blog before, at its beginning, but it’s worth repeating…..I keep redoing the ending attempting to convey how much this impacted me.
that woman today at the bus stop with the little boy in her lap she so tired so gallant looking the sadness of her mouth the worry on her brow the boy so fat brown succulent so good as if he knew he mustn’t stress his mother at all the way she held him in her lap at first i thought he was asleep but he was just still very still like a baby animal that senses danger her shoes her best black slightly frayed at the heels uncomfortable for walking she was hot and tired of carrying the heavy baby hose a dress not flattering but good why was she dressed up for an interview was she a student did she speak English my throat got tight with my lack of Spanish what if I’d spoken to her told her how lovely her brown eyed still boy was the van that drove up was new was nice was she distressed i thought so beautiful little boy whose face echoed your mother’s your quietness won’t leave my mind…..
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and character, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
I found this quote from Rumi, and it stopped me in my tracks:
Make me sweet again,
fragant and fresh and wild,
and thankful for any small event.
How I want that. It’s harder as I age. I can feel the faintest tinge of bitterness always there to shade its color in me….an is that all there is? Or…I knew you’d do that….as if too much life experience or being around people long enough has given me an inevitable edge of distrust.
I want to be the best of the girl I was: open, trusting, assuming good would happen. A wise man once asked a group of us, what is good? That which is nondisturbing? That which pleases you? What if that isn’t good to another? What then is good?
Ah. That brings God/higher power/universe aspects into the picture. The old Zen story of the boy who broke his leg (bad, right?) only that meant he couldn’t be dragged away from his family to be a solider when an army passed through. Or the rain that floods one place and heals another. The truth is I don’t know what good is, nor bad, at a bigger level, from a larger gaze that takes in more than me.
So I want to be sweet again, fragant and fresh and wild, and thankful for any small event. That, now, is good.
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, fame, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, story and character, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged aging, poetry of Rumi, Rumi, sweetness, what I want to be, what is good, what is sweet
I’ve been driving across a lot of vast, open spaces in the past few days….the beginning of plains country around Amarillo and the high desert and desert of New Mexico stretching all the way to mountain. Dad has been on my mind. He was about the same age I am now when he died. And I never really knew him. If he could have waited on me to grow up more, to be able to sit in the discomfort that was always between us, we might have been able to have some real conversation, or if not that, that sincere quiet that can reside between two people who love one another. My Dad was a child of the Great Depression, and that marked him all his life. He left home early; by 16 he was off to college and then to the Merchant Marine Academy. He was forthright and opinionated. He drank too much and said things I would imagine he regretted later. It was the saying of those things that put distance between us. They hurt, and by the time I was 8 I moved some place far back inside myself and never came close to him again. But some of my siblings managed better. My late sister Carmen said she always saw him as a hurt, little boy. My brother loved and admired him and has nothing but that to express when my Dad’s name comes up to this day. But me….I missed an opportunity to know him. I couldn’t get past the fear of hurt. So I’m thinking of him as I drive past vast, open spaces because there was a vast, open space between us, and now I’d like it closed.
Posted in Before Versailles, character, Dark Angels, family, fathers, history, Karleen Koen, life, love, memoir, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and character, story and family, story and love, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged Amarillo, Dad, family relationships, fathers' day, Great Depression, Karleen Koen, my Dad, my father, New Mexico, thinking of Dad, thinking of fathers
We’re giving a tea party for my niece. As I gather boughs with great, white clusters called snowballs from my sister’s shrubs to put into vases, my thoughts are far away, on bits and pieces of movies I’ve watched as I bid my time here, movies about warriors, movies about sports and young men, movies about God in unexpected guise and the demons in one’s self. In case you hadn’t noticed, says the coach in one of them, life ain’t fair and sometimes you get the short end of the stick. But how long you carry it is up to you. Movie samurai practice their swordplay in my thoughts, their solemn, intense, yet zen focus, the clean, hard discipline and code of honor bulwarking all, death no enemy, but an accepted piece of the life of a warrior, with an honorable way to die underpinning all. Texas high school seniors repeat their lines as I set out silver trays, football heros, who must deal with the last clear, clean drama most of them will have in life, winning state or not. Again, rules are there, even if not followed by all. Their play on the football field is a kind of war to them, requires them to grow in ways they don’t expect. Or I think about the real war-traumatized movie hero with God striding beside him; the moment when I realized his companion was God made me blink my eyes at the TV screen and weep from the sweet simplicity of it. What do you want from me, screams a soul-maimed warrior. What do you want from yourself is the reply.
As I arrange tea cups for the party to come, there’s a longing in me for clean purpose, for a code of conduct so precise that I have no questions, for an honorable way to die as clear as goal posts on a football field. Dialog from one of the movies echoes in my head: it’s a game you can’t win. It’s the playing of it. The dialog is about golf. Life, I think, watching snowball petals drop lightly on a polished table top…..life.
Have you a code of conduct, a code of honor? What is it? And how is a woman a warrior, for I know we are. Yet, what are our battles? What are our swords?
Posted in Before Versailles, character, Dark Angels, fame, history, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, sisters, story and character, story and life, story and theme, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged finding honor in life, finding one's path, Friday Night Lights, God, high school football, Matt Damon, The Last Samurai, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Tom Cruise, warriors
A dull week for me; most of it spent with me sick, something I seldom am. I kept myself occupied by opening Georgette Heyer, the originator of light little comedies of manner set often but not always in the Regency period in England. She has been widely copied, but too few write these little frothy escapes as well as she does because most lack her sense of humor and assured plotting. She makes fun of the pompous, the proper pleased with themselves, and the pious. She understands youthful folly and enthusiasm. She understands yearning. There’s always a handsome, unattainable hero; there’s often an older young woman (late twenties) who is quite happily unmarried. Or the heroine is young and impetuous. At their best, her stories are delightful to me. At their worst, they are contrived, but I don’t mind. I like the way she characterizes spoiled beauties, managing mamas, and lazy older men.
Only 2 of her romances have an ounce of reality…..one in which there is an arranged marriage and almost real heartbreak. Another in which the lady who takes the hero’s heart is unrestrained enough to break it over and over again in spite of his sterling qualities. The first time I read these 2 stories, so many years ago, I wasn’t certain I liked them. They were just outside the very neat boundaries of Heyer’s stories. But I notice that I’ve done the same, woven in a seasoning of reality into the fiction I write, so that in some ways, I’m quite unsafe to read.
What about you? Who is your go-to when sick or in need of rescue from life? Why do we like what we like?
Posted in Before Versailles, books, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Karleen Koen, love, mothers, Now Face to Face, romance writing, story and character, story and love, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly, writing process
Tagged "Georgette Heyer", A Civil Contract, An Infamous Army, heros and heroines, Karleen Koen, Regency period, romances, why do we love a romance