Monthly Archives: October 2012

happiness

I’m preparing for my writing class….looking over interviews with writers I’ve saved but not managed to read. Toni Morrison‘s words in a summer O Magazine stop me in my tracks….

I gave a commencement address at Princeton where I told the graduates that I wished them happiness but they shouldn’t settle for that–it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t important enough.

Her words take the pursuit of happiness and somehow put it in another place, give the headlong rush of all of us toward it another tone.

What do you think?

i don’t know what i’m doing

Sometimes I’m asked in what order someone should read my books. I guess this is because some of the same characters appear in three of them, and the second follows the action of the first, so I have kinda-sorta written a series.

But the third precedes the first if you want to consider date when plot takes place, and the fourth precedes the third on that basis, too. And now the fifth follows the third, but is still before the first.

Are you with me?

I think it doesn’t matters in what order you read. Read whichever one comes your way, and, if pleased,  go from there. Each book is written to stand alone: a full-fledged story with beginning, middle, end. But chronologically, it’s fourth, third, fifth (unfinished, too bad, so sad), first, second if you have to follow the ruler of time.

As the one who writes them, I find remote, bemused bewilderment in the way they have unfolded in my imagination. The first one was written to heal over a great hurt. The second one was written because the publisher made an offer people I trusted insisted I couldn’t refuse. The third one was written because that’s what was there for me to do when I left a regular job I’d gone to because writing fiction seemed too hard (not as hard as stupid politics at a low level job). The fourth one was written because it was the one I’ve been trying to write since the second.  A piece had tumbled out as a plot device in the third. That was when I realized how large a particular story of interest to me (Louis XIV and some of his relationships) was, and that my mistake had been to try to fit that story into one book. So I just wrote another piece of Louis’s story for the fourth.

Now that Before Versailles is finished, I am taking one thread of it to unfurl it forward into the time period of Dark Angels, and those characters, Richard and Alice, are back on stage.

But then the book after this one, six, if I’m counting correctly, will again look backward to Alice’s girlhood, to when she first becomes a maid of honor and a particular period of history I want to show readers. So it will precede Dark Angels chronologically.

And then, and only then, will I be ready to go forward to the early 18th century in which Barbara, the character of the first and second novels, lived. I think there is one more novel about her, but since I’m in the first draft of another novel, I can’t imagine finishing this one, much less contemplating doing another.

Is there psychic order to my madness, or am I just insane?  It is very stupid marketing on my part to write out of order. However, I can’t force my imagination to go anywhere it doesn’t wish to. It’s worse than a mean mule or a insistent toddler. I am not in charge. In fact the more I write, the less I know about writing.

 

dog story

I had a very small adventure a few weeks ago. I still don’t understand it, but I thought about it for days…..here it is from my journal:

Yesterday, I see cars stop outside my windows….side street side. I see people get out of their cars. I see them pick up a small dog. I hear them talking. I watch them walk to my front door. 

Is this your dog?

 
No. We talk about whose neighbors’ it might be. It is a small, red brown dachshund. I hear myself tell them that if they can’t find the owner, I’ll put her in the back. They can’t find the owner, and before I know it, I have her in my arms and take her to the back. I find a rug. I make a bed. I get  water. She’s just a sidelight in a busy day. I close off the garage so she can’t get inside it, so I don’t run over her or she doesn’t run away. She never barks a sound. She lies on the rug like a tired, good girl.
 
I go off to write and then buy her some food. I call my husband to tell him. He grills me about what I am going to do.  I’ll put up signs. She’s so docile she must have owners. I come home, give her food. She is still on her rug. I make signs, put them in a big circle around the house on busy streets. I take off again. She is now on the deck. I realize she is elderly. She is saggy baggy in a certain feminine area and her nipples show….so she has been a mama. She doesn’t greet me, but I pat her and tell her we will find her master beginning tomorrow.
 
When I come home late, I see her lying on the back door step, stretched out, relaxed and at her ease. The light from inside the house washes over her, and I am moved. I think about how she must miss her home. At the door, I reach down to pat her again, and I realize she is dead…………………………………
 
What does it mean? What if I had ignored the people walking to my door? That thought did cross my mind. I reverberate with her small passing for days, her tiny place in the space of my life, a little moment I rushed through. I talk about it with friends. I don’t understand. I think about Tennessee Williams’ line, I depend on the kindness of strangers. I think about the motto that was so popular a few years ago, practice random kindness and senseless acts of beauty. Someone mentions my mother, who in her Alzheimer’s, is as dependent as that little dog. Is that the reverberation? I don’t know.
Do you? But practicing random kindness and senseless acts of beauty seems like a good way to love. I meant to write the word live just now but love came out. I’ll leave it. It’s somehow part of this little dog story.