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
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
I’ve been spiffing up the notebook I present as part of the basics-of-the-novel class I teach for continuing studies at Rice. Certain words, advice, sayings leap off the page to peck at me as I hunch over the computer redoing…..such as these words by poet Mary Oliver. They’re all writing is about….they’re all life is about, actually…..
My work is loving the world.
Here the sunflowers, there the hummingbird -equal seekers of sweetness.
Here the quickening yeast; there the blue plums.
Here the clam deep in the speckled sand.
Are my boots old? Is my coat torn?
Am I no longer young, and still not half-perfect? Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work
which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished…………..
Posted in Before Versailles, creativity, Dark Angels, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story and theme, theme, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged basics of the novel, how poetry grabs one, Mary Oliver, my course at Rice University, Rice University
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
Well, I was going to cheat today and just hunt up an old blog post to repost, but as I read through them I liked them so much, I decided I would follow Ray Bradbury’s advice: Start writing more; it’ll get rid of those moods you’re having. This week the side fence fell over. It wasn’t much of a surprise; in fact it was leaning so much that it didn’t even make much of a racket smacking the ground. The neighbor’s house is gone, razed to make way for a townhouse at some point in the future, and the wind was just strong enough, the fence just weak enough, the lack of a barrier just lack enough for the fence to topple. At first I felt invaded. Anyone could see in. But now I’m growing used to it, and I like the space open to me and am going to feel boxed in when the fence is back. It made me think about my life. How boxed in is it? What old habits keep me small and cramped? Am I just so used to it all that I don’t even notice? My very dear Dunya, a practicing meditator and mystic, wrote this comment last week: the ‘seasons of the heart’ has new meaning for me; I truly am surprised now at my heart. As life progresses she turns her beating more clearly toward infinite joy and away from transient happiness, but this turning brings me into places and into contact with people in a fashion that mystifies me. Some joy is found right where it has always been, — in plain sight — and some is found where I had no idea I would ever look.
Turning toward infinite joy and away from transient happiness….how often transient happiness has been transient for me and how mad I’ve been when I couldn’t keep it in my hot little grasping hand. Somehow the fence’s blowing over swept away some cobwebs, and now I’m thinking of Rilke: Whoever you are: some evening take a step out of your house, which you know so well. Enormous space is near…….
Enormous space is near. What fences do you need blown over?
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, spirituality, story, story and theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing
Tagged boundaries, dancemeditation, do your boundaries work, Dunya, fences, internal fences, Maria Rainier Rilke, my fence fell over, Ray Bradbury
I bought them late, in December, snuggled them among glass stones, poured in gin water. I didn’t expect them to bloom so quickly, for the stalks to shoot up so taut and green once the bulbs were fed, didn’t expect to see the blossom already swelling inside its green casing. Two of the groupings I made have opened into paperwhites, the small fragrant blossoms that are such a contrast to the brown bulb that begins and then feeds them. The paperwhites are in the dining room, kitchen, living room….taking the place of the Christmas decorations I’ve so firmly put away, before a stray sorrow from Christmas past can find me and puncture my carefully restored peace with the season. Somehow there is a metaphor to these paperwhites. Somehow their fresh promise of opening comforts me––I always miss the frolic and red of put-away Christmas. It’s a new year. Without my realizing it, I placed something in my new year life that is already blossoming. What hope for me. I no longer believe in the resolutions I used to make––too many of them broken. I know without a doubt a year may bring sorrow and challenge as well as joy. But I can watch the paperwhites open. (I’m a sucker for blossoms….once I saw the paperwhites were going to take, I explored around to see what else was there. The Christmas cactus, always late, had budded tips, one or two grown to near blossom stage. And I opened the front door and saw a cameilla bud still tight and small, but its color showing––impossible that the many petaled beauty that will emerge can all be in that bud, but it is. And one rose on the climber offers butter yellow sweetness.)
It’s the promise in buds that I love so much….particularly if I know the flower that will unfurl. I wonder if God feels like that about us.
What’s your new year paperwhite?
Posted in Before Versailles, creativity, Dark Angels, Houston, Karleen Koen, life, Now Face to Face, story, story and theme, story and writing, theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged blossoms, buds, cameillas, Christmas, flowers make me happy, God, growing something new, new year's resolutions, paperwhites, roses
I just sent off page proofs to New York. This means that not another word of the book I’ve finished will be changed. I did something I didn’t expect. I took what I thought was some worldly wisdom out of the book, deleted it. When I wrote the worldly, warning words, I was adamant about keeping them in. I don’t like sticky sweet romances. I feel like they’re a lie. But in rereading the story again, I decided that I wasn’t being fair to the character, who couldn’t know what he would do in the years ahead, and that I was killing hope, that we begin everything with hope. Time or circumstances may change that, but hope is one of the most beautiful things in our lives. We’ve never dare to anything without it. So I dropped lines that were foreboding, showing what the future would hold. I decided they reflected my own cynicism. I don’t want to be a cynic. I want to keep aspects of a child, but not deny the wisdom of my years.
What are you looking for when you read? An escape? Realism? Adventure? Why do we read fiction?
Posted in Before Versailles, books, creativity, Dark Angels, fiction, historical fiction, Houston, Karleen Koen, Now Face to Face, romance writing, story and character, story and family, story and life, story and love, story and theme, story and writing, theme, Through A Glass Darkly, writing, writing process
Tagged "Louis XIV", "Louise de la Valliere", Athenais, changing your writing, cynicism, faith, hope, page proofs, publishing, rewrites
I heard an interesting phrase at a meditation retreat this weekend: compassionately let go. The wise man speaking (he runs in Deepak Chopra circles) was answering a question about wanting to help someone by telling them about your meditation practice and/or your God or guru or whatever it is spiritually that is working for you. You must do it without ego and without expectation, as a sharing, he said, as in this worked for me….and then compassionately let go. I liked that word compassion. I remember the first time I heard about letting go in 12-step….detach with love, was the advice. I could detach, but with love…nope. I was too angry, too fearful, upset by how another’s behavior was hurting me, but too afraid to walk away. Which reminds me of something another wise man once said, you always have a choice. Always. It’s just that sometimes the choice is between one pain and another. But I was talking about compassionately letting go: of another’s reaction, attitude, addiction, behavior, with compassion toward them. It’s out of our hands. Of course, it always was. Each person has his own path, his own guides and inner light for that path. We can’t make him turn on that light. The word love requires more than I can sometimes give, an energy of engagement that I can’t or won’t summon for various reasons. I can’t always love others. But compassion….I think I can go there, for the other, and also, for myself. Compassion is an interesting shade of love. Less red.
How do you see compassion and how do you see love? And how do you see letting go?
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, Karleen Koen, life, love, Now Face to Face, story and character, story and life, story and love, story and theme, story and writing, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged 12 step, compassion, Deepak Chopra, letting go, love, meditation, why is it hard to let go, wisdom
I wrote a few blogs ago about crones and crone energy. One of my questions was why the word was so scary? I didn’t get many answers, but one of the reasons I see is loss of youthful beauty. I’ve been thinking about power lately. A friend gave a talk to some high schoolers about Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. What is a heroine’s journey, I wondered? Now we can live the life of men because we can keep from having children. But all women I know, married, single, widowed, divorced, crave connection, are often connected with friends and relatives in a way men aren’t, though gay men come close. And what if our heroine has a child? Without a partner, even with one? What, then, happens to her journey? It’s no longer straightforward. There are sacrifices and guilts if pursuing a career. If single, there are struggles and compromises so immense that they can’t be overstated. And what about beauty? What does that do to a heroine’s journey, for a beautiful woman is pleasing, and there is huge power in that. What does that do to her path, to her integrity? There’s great seduction in being pretty or more, in seeing men attracted like metal to a magnet. But in a savage, warrior culture, like the streets, a beautiful woman is captured early by a man, or she’s taken against her will. Her beauty is both power and a snare in which she’s caught. Youthful beauty is also a double-edged sword because it fades. I’m thinking now of Elizabeth Taylor, the great beauty of the 20th century, encased in the brown amber of plastic surgery and botox in an attempt to look 50 when she is close to 80. What if she, the most beautiful woman of her age, had let the hair grey, the pounds accumulate, the wrinkles place themselves on her face, so that along with the wisdom and strength she often displays, the deep marks life makes would show outside as well as inside? She was afraid of looking the crone is one of my guesses. Cronedom is a foreshadow of the dark side, and I don’t mean witchcraft. I mean death. The crone so clearly is walking toward death. But why are we more fearful of those marks on women than on men? And why is beauty thought of as unlined? Is it fear of death again? I don’t understand…..
Posted in Before Versailles, character, creativity, Dark Angels, fame, history, Karleen Koen, life, love, story, story and life, story and love, story and theme, Through A Glass Darkly
Tagged a woman's path, aging, beauty, crones, Elizabeth Taylor, growing old, hero's journey, heroine's journey, heroines, Joseph Campell, why is a beautiful woman so powerful