Category Archives: books

full

IMG_0422I am seeped in history to the bone. Today I took myself on a walking tour of Maastricht using an old guide book someone had
IMG_0566recommended. I was just swept away by narrow alleys and bits of old wall and relics in churches.  Historian Dirk Jansen has shared all his theories and research about d’Artagnan. He’s taken me to city archives to look at old maps. We took a train to Paris and went to the war museum and looked at a special exhibit on the musketeers and talked with a French historian and curator IMG_0706he knows. Yesterday, I thought to have a quiet day and ended up seeing the American WWII soldiers’ cemetery maintained by the Dutch, then heard Bach’s Matthew’s Passion, then went to Dirk’s friend’s house and wonderful garden outside of town and ate her homemade soup.

My cup runneth over.

IMG_0422

april

cropballSitting in the backyard swing under the big, old camphor tree and words came:

A glass of wine—

fat carpenter bees —

wind swirling green-tipped trees—

April heaven in the garden bower…….

Normally I play to turn it into a haiki, but I was too April lazy. It had been awhile since I’d had an impulse of words. I need to leave more time for daydreaming.

Research news: I leave for The Netherlands soon. I meet with a historian in Maastricht to talk about Louis XIV and his war on the Dutch. And we’re going to Paris for the day on the bullet train to see the war museum and an exhibit on the musketeers. And I’ll meet a historian friend of his there who specializes in the musketeers.

Lucky me. One for all and all for one………cropball

hope

DSC_0094Le Notre and I are busy. He walks around my yard, leaning on the gold-headed cane gifted him by Louis XIV, and commands me to prune and pick up and plant. I love it when he visits. It’s that time of year, when my yard becomes a siren, and I lured to toil. It’s good to put one’s hands in soil, to dig and rake and straighten. To put a seed down. Seeds are the epitome of hope. I DSC_0094need hope in these days of my aging. It’s my botox.

yada

index

Writing: I haven’t written for a couple of weeks as I planned a research trip, got ready for a class, and did some family babysitting in my role as grandmother. So the story feels far away. It’s like climbing back on a wild horse to write at it again. Horse is out there in the corral bucking and snorting, and I’m sitting on the fence looking at it and thinking, I can’t ride that. Can and will. Have before, but it never gets any easier.

Teaching: Leading an Artist’s Way. Not doing it the length Ms. Cameron suggests, but Rice U. makes the rules. We’ll be at it six weeks. Everyone is so eager and interested. I’m in love with them all. Morning Pages I will do. It’s the Artist’s Date that’s hard for me. As Ms. Cameron says, “We hunger for what might be called creative living—an expanded sense of creativity in our business lives, in sharing with our children, our spouse, our friends.” Don’t you?

Me: I’m taking a watercolor class. Have told myself for years I wanted to. Finally got around to it. Have no art or drawing background or preparation, which means I don’t get near the end result I want. zinnaBut I love it…….l….o….v….e……it. It’s a great stretch and good play. I don’t play enough. Do you? It also challenges me. To be bad, a beginner, at something.

back

doll

I’m back. Here, I mean. What happened? I just got tired. And I was sad about my writing. When I’m sad and tired, I don’t have extra energy. This is what this is. Extra energy. A way for me to exercise writing in a different way.

What does “back” mean? Coming here weekly. Attempting not to bore. Opening up a bit to what’s inside. It also means some chores: selecting what to write, writing it, playing with photos and links, if I want to deepen the entry.

At first I blogged because I was supposed to: marketing. Then it became another and quicker and more fun way to express. Then I ran out of steam and felt empty. So I stopped writing here. Kept on with fiction, but stopped here. Now I have a second wind. Let’s see where we go……………

cameilla

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.

 

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?

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…. 

story

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…..