Monthly Archives: August 2008


What a week. I run into a wall in my story, slam right into it, knock myself out, and lie on the ground feeling sorry for myself for several days. Why do I do this for a living? Why is it so hard at times? What am I going to do if I can’t come up with a solution? 

I lose myself in the Democratic Convention: Will Hiliary acquiesce gracefully? (More than gracefully–magnificently–and I love the orange pantsuit and sisterhood of the traveling pantsuit.) Will Bill come through? (Not only does he come through, but he encapsulates the issues before the American people neatly and succinctly and into perfect sound bites.) Will Obama’s speech be all it has to be? (It’s more so. He’s the most inspiring orator I’ve heard since Martin Luther King or John Kennedy.) I overdose on research: rereading two entire biographies of Louis XIV and of his mother. Just so I don’t have to look at how painful it is to be stopped in my tracks by the story I’m writing.

Annie Dilliard says that when such happens there’s a crack in your story, and you have to go back and reexamine the structure. I do so, not willingly, but I see a possibility for finishing the story off, not the way I expected, but the way the story has shaped itself intrinsically, organically. There’s a writer’s idea of a story, and then there’s the story. I always forget that. 

I pick myself back up only to find McCain has nominated a woman, and not only a woman, but a hell of a woman, a pistol packing mama-governor of five who is evangelical and a beauty queen and the mother of a Down’s Syndrome child. What drama. I can’t surpass real life. And Hurricane Gustav is out in the Gulf, at this moment ignoring my Gulf home city, but not New Orleans. So I’ll sit myself in the chair tomorrow thankful that the storm is bypassing me, but praying for the folks on the Louisiana coast and watching McCain behave gracefully under this pressure and seeing where this force of nature will decide to land itself and what will be destroyed as a result. It makes my 17th century politics look like nothing and puts my personal angst in true perspective in this big old world….nothing, just nothing.


A blessing

From a journal entry August 2006:

Today in the crowded, can’t move or something will fall over family-owned Kwik Kopy, the whole Sunni/Shiite (I don’t know which) family is at work xeroxing, folding—she in her scarves covering her head, two nearly grown sons, the grandfather, the father. The shop has the feel of a Moroccan bazaar.

Where have you been? they ask me.

The father explains, she’s a writer, to a customer. He’s very proud of me. He wants to know about the latest book, which I’ve come in to xerox. (It will be Dark Angels, published by Crown and Three Rivers Press.) We talk a little about business. September 11 hit them hard, but they’ve hung on.

When I leave, the father says, May you have success like Harry Potter.

I’ve been blessed. Out of nowhere. Among stacks of paper and vibrating xerox machines. Kindness. May it come back threefold to you.

it was time

Larry’s dad just died. His father had fallen out of bed and broken his hip. His dad was in his 90s and not going gentle into that good night. Larry and his brother had brought him to Texas two years ago and put him in the best nursing home they could find, but he ran away back to Louisiana and forever after talked about how Larry and his brother had put him in jail. He survived the operation, was walking around within days, but they found blood in his stomach, and a second operation ensued. It was too much, and he slipped away. Larry was fairly serene, saying his dad had just changed addresses and was with Jesus. And that it was time.

I told my brother, Larry said, that I know where Daddy is eating breakfast today, with Momma and Aunt Margie. He’s eating eggs and fried squirrel––he loved fried squirrel––and Aunt Margie’s biscuits. Which led us into a conversation about the food after the funeral. His father’s wife’s Aunt Vera, 91, thank you very much, made a jello salad with an inch of whipped cream across the top, and Larry, who jogs and stays fit, had four helpings.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve known some fine people, Larry told me, beginning to name them. Uncle Clifford, Aunt Margie, Jesse, who was head of operations of the New Orleans dump once upon a time and let Larry play there for days when he was a boy until his mother had a fit and put a stop to it. Then Larry told me about all his father had done for him, put him through college, gone down to Mexico and gotten him out when he was in a serious motorcycle accident in his 20s, rehabilitated him by making him talk every day into a tape recorder and then listen back once a week and see his improvements. Larry stopped and wiped his eyes.

Love. Life. I love them so. Maybe they’re the same.


The cats and I were recently talking about Paul Newman. They were sitting on the back of my chair when I read an article about him in Vanity Fair and couldn’t help but comment on his good looks and, of course, the eyes.

I saw Paul Newman once, I told them. Tell us, they purred. I was in Venice with my ex-husband, only he wasn’t ex at the time. This was in the 1980s. We were sitting in the restaurant of our hotel, and I was looking down at my plate, and people were passing by on their way to their places, and I heard a woman whose voice sounded exactly like Joanne Woodward’s. I looked up, and there, passing in front of me, but several yards away, was the actress Joanne Woodward. My next thought was, if that’s Joanne Woodward, Paul Newman must be near. But I’d only looked up in time to catch the merest wisp of them, profiles across the room. And yes, he was following her.

I could hardly eat the rest of my dinner. I wasn’t in a place to see where they were seated, and it about killed me, but it was just as well. I wouldn’t have been able not to stare. Later we were out shopping on some charming narrow street with many shop windows, and we passed a couple staring in a window, and as we passed, I realized it was them. They wore sunglases and hurried from window to window, standing for a long time with their backs hunched to passing people. Of course, I stared like crazy keeping track of them, but eventually they disappeared into an alley. I was as excited as if I were watching a pair of unicorns. Poor unicorns. Now I know that only a few survive.

In the fast-paced, 24-hour news of today’s world, Paul Newman is probably more known for his sauce and popcorn than he is for his acting and piercing blue eyes, but I doubt that bothers him…or her. What a pair they were, talented, beautiful, living through losses that even glamour doesn’t disqualify you for, aging gracefully, she into ballet and sky diving, he into race car driving and charity. They haven’t used plastic surgery to take them into that long good night, but rather an interest in other things, a giving back of the largesse life heaped onto their plates. Time and chance and talent and beauty. They had it. Like Sara and Gerald Murphy a generation or two before them, they’ve walked in beauty like the night and survived the price demanded.

Louis, Louis

He was the rock star politician of his time, as if Franklin Roosevelt in his prime looked like a dark-haired Sting with a touch of Brad Pitt thrown in. But oddly enough, he isn’t the one who’s hard to write.

It’s the two women, Louise (de la Valliere, as she was known later) and Henriette (princess of England and France), both real, both intriguing, both loved him and were loved by him, and which is my heroine––that is the problem. I’ve decided and won’t spoil the plot of this book by telling all, but how I have wrestled with this, one draft focusing on one, the other draft on the other, and this draft, the polish/final (I hope, please, please) focusing on the winner.

Who’s the winner and why? The one who contributes most to the tension and forward motion of the story. The one who rises to the forefront in my imagination. In real life, I think they were both heroines. What an interesting point in history, Louis, the burgeoning young lion of Europe, loved by his sister-in-law, his wife, his sister-in-law’s maid of honor (and every other young woman in the vacinity….don’t we all love a star?).  And his breaking of the most powerful man in France and his own brother. To take this story and pull it apart and find the meat, the emotional arcs, the why we do things, the consequences of what we do, which is what I love best, has been such a challenge.

I hope, when it’s done (I think this fall, but it isn’t sold yet, so I don’t know when it will come out) that you think it’s worth it. I have tremendous respect for you…the reader. I am a reader, and I love nothing more than when an author scoops me up in spite of myself and takes me to another world. It’s what I attempt in my writing, to suspend time and place, to create another time and place, where real people walked and talked and loved and lost and survived anyway, just like we do.