Category Archives: story

research trip….day 1

I’m in another world, literally and figuratively.

IMG_0354The train station at Maastricht. I miss one of my train connections, but after panic subsides realize the trains run like clockwork and just get on one that names the next town I need to be in. Three train changes later, I’m proud of myself and the kindness and English of strangers.

IMG_0362The view from my hotel window. Heart of the city. Narrow, narrow streets. Houses old in a way we have no idea of.

IMG_0368The statue of d’Artagnan on the edge of what was once fortress walls. Fruit trees are blooming everywhere in the city, and all is spring’s green, a special shade.

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I am taken by my new historian friend on a foot and car trip around the outskirts of the city, so that he can show me how it looked to the French in 1673. We end up in a vineyard, city in sight, because this is where he thinks a famous portrait was posed from. I am reeling with fatigue, but the hosts of the vineyard, friends of his in a d’Artagnan society they all belong to, give us a complimentary glass of wine. The courtyard and buildings are all old stone. We are in the country though the church spires of Maastricht can be seen. Dinner is late, eaten on the busy market square, table after table open to the night, the sun still up even though it’s past 8. I stagger to bed filled with thoughts of churches where long-ago soldiers might be buried and sacred wells whose water might solace them and monks whose vineyards might have thrived where the one I stood in does.

 

sister

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I think I’ll plant daffodils around their headstone. I was in Arkansas this weekend at the small country cemetery where my mother and father’s ashes will one day be buried. Dad was born around here; a sister of mine lived down the road. Daffodils were blooming everywhere, covering yards in thick clusters, and that sister, now gone, was much on my mind. We all planted dozens of bulbs in her yard for her during her last autumn, a few months before she left us forever. Days before she was taken to the hospital—a place from which we all knew she would not return alive—I walked with my daughter to look at the green daffodil stalks in my sister’s yard. They represented love for her. In those months before her dying, we would have done anything for her, bought her anything she wanted, taken her anywhere she wanted to go. There were parts of her that were the best of us.

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My daughter was in her 20s; my sister’s daughters were 11 and 5. I remember realizing that she would never do this simple thing I was doing—walking with a grown daughter. The pain around that was sharp like a honed blade and achy dull at the same time.

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She didn’t live to see her daffodils or her daughters bloom. When I see those flowers in this place near where she had her home and family, she lives again in me; her final, bittersweet leaving is daffodil fragrant inside.  Mom and Dad will like having them nodding their yellow heads around their grave, I think. I think my sister will like it, too.

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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.

e-book savings

small_May11I’m pleased to announce that Sourcebooks is offering Through A Glass Darkly‘s e-book for $2.99 starting December 8-26, a big savings from the regular e-book price.

They’re offering e-readers and other things, too, in a promotion that starts December 1st. Enjoy and Merry Christmas, ya’ll.

Here’s the link: http://books.sourcebooks.com/promos/

25 Days of Christmas Logo

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?

flower

May we take steps in peace upon the earth…..boom goes my heart as it opens inside my chest. I’m holding hands with a partner, whom I don’t know, and we moving in a semicircle at a meditation workshop. We repeat-sing the words again as we move in the other direction. May we take steps in peace upon the earth. What tremendous delicacy it would require, I think, to take only steps in peace…..

I bow to the flower in you, we both say, as we bow to one another. Boom, goes my heart again, expanding out inside me, as I am so touched to say such words to another, to have them said to me. Only my very young grandchildren, in their wild innocence, move me this way. My mind can only just grasp the idea of the flower in another, in me, the rose, the daisy, the marigold, the lily, the peony, the violet….their names alone are a kind of poetry. A  flower is a thing of beauty. What a concept, that we are innately things of beauty, that within us is a unique blossom of soul.

I bow to the flower in you.

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…. 

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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…..

true

“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.