Category Archives: character

mystery

indexIt becomes a day I treasure. My grandchildren are at my house. The weather is wonderful, mild, caressing, sunny, so beautiful it makes me a little crazy. My grandson, 4, is focused on the above-ground fish tank my husband has build. My grandson claims to be cleaning out the tank (a horse trough), but he’s really using the aquariam net to attempt to catch fish. Luckily, they’re too fast. His skullduggery amuses me, but the day is so beautiful, I am so glad to be outside and with these humans in the making, that anything would amuse me.

His sister has a small plastic Minnie Mouse. His sister is 2. Her vocabulary is, like her, small: stop, eat, open, again, Minnie, for Minnie Mouse,  her idol. She loves the fish tank too. It’s suggested by her brother that she drop Minnie into the water, and he will rescue her with the net. Well, the tank is too deep, and he can’t do it. So I do. Wonderful. Hurray. How fun. Minnie is dropped again. Again, a rescue is attempted, and I am called in. I think I have her. But I don’t. This happens twice. Now I reach my arm in (the tank goes almost to my shoulder). No Minnie.

Where can Minnie be? The question of a fish eating her is raised (not by me). My granddaughter considers this, but to her credit doesn’t break under the burden of that possibility. We swirl, we net, my arm goes in again and again. Where can she be? we all ask over and over. I get a big flashlight and shine it in the tank. There are cement blocks stacked to hold plants, and they have holes. I search the holes as best I can. No Minnie.

waterlilyWhen it’s time to go home, my granddaughter is willing to leave without Minnie and without tears. I tell my grandchildren—my grandson has taken charge about the disappearance and is pretty official about it—that my husband will find her for certain. There is a conference, quite serious, quite long, at the car as everyone is strapped in. Assurances are made. I promise I will call on the phone when she’s found.

She has to be there. Yet the mystery of it all…..

waterlilyAll afternoon, I laugh to myself. (I find out later that my grandson tells his father in no uncertain terms that another Minnie will have to be bought if she isn’t located, and that my granddaughter invents a game in which she goes all over the house asking, Where’s Minnie?*)

*She was pushed far back in one of those bricks’ holes.

baby, baby Edith

(Spoiler Alert: This is about last season of Downton Abby.)

TBP_9950Thinking of Edith’s plot line in Downton Abbey. How does one convey the shame an unmarried pregnant woman carried for centuries?

Centuries. Shame. No mercy. Kicked to the curb. Outcast. Pariah.

Downton got close to it in earlier seasons when we followed the housemaid seduced by the convalescing soldier who died. His parents would take the baby, without her. She said no. But historical catch 22. Who is going to hire a housemaid without references? And baby meant no references. She ended up in prostitution. And then she gave the parents the baby. The parting scene between her and the baby conveyed a bright, sharp, real sliver of historical pain to viewers.

Edith’s plight was shortchanged. She had relatives and money to help her, but she still had to hide. I needed to see her give birth, nurse (as is implied in the plot), and walk away from the little being she loved. I needed to feel the historic mercilessness of unmarried pregnancy no matter what your circumstances. I can still remember the girls who got pregnant in my high school, how we whispered about them. How we had no absolutely no mercy for them.

roseThere are centuries of pain in women’s history. Of being used: raped and incested and/or punished for giving in to sensuality.

Immense and implacable.

That describes the historical fate of an unmarried pregnant woman. Right now, right here in river city, we have the story of a 16-year-old who put her newborn in a dumpster. I feel anguish. It’s better than it used to be, but it’s still bad….thank God we can vote, have birth control, and are allowed to make money. Otherwise, we are at the mercy of the times and our bodies, and the times are only a little more civilized about pregnant unmarried women than they used to be. Only a little bit.

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.

 

singing bird

Keep a green tree in your heart and a singing bird will come….Chinese proverb.

I’ve been nursing myself through Christmas for years, missing the breakup of my family, dealing with a fractured holiday where kids have to split in two to see all the parents, missing the young family I had, the young me so busy and so organized.  This year, I realized my work…..on defining what I and no one else but I….want for Christmas has paid off. The heartbreak seems to have been sealed off, like a leak in an old boat. The vessel may be creaky, but she can sail. I’m enjoying myself. Small things delight me:

Buying the three living green wreaths that unleash my decorating and never decorating them the same but just letting creativity flow…..

Noticing the beauty of the Christmas cactus blooms when they finally open; the closed blooms themselves are so satiny beautiful and then when they open….wow…

Letting myself be fully present at whatever small or large Christmas do I’m at, and it doesn’t matter if the only pair of wool slacks I have are too tight at the waist; I’ll diet in the New Year….

Punting around the kids’ schedules but having something Christmas Eve day with them….

Singing my heart out at the Unity Christmas Eve service, all by myself if need be…..

Going with Youngest Grandson (2) on admiring Christmas lights walks. “Light,” he says as he carefully navigates himself near the lighted object. “One finger,” he says, as he’s been taught, as he carefully touches a single light of each object. His masked, furtive delight that he’s talked me into allowing  him to walk down the sidewalk with me rather than placing him in the stroller could not be more obvious or more joyful to me. I get one more grandchild to do this with….

Buying reindeer antlers and a red nose for the car, laughing at how silly I must look because the cars I see with them on look silly….but happy, too….what if we all put such on our cars for this time of year…..wouldn’t that be a hoot?

So….a green tree did grow in my heart again around this season, and ten years ago I would never have believed it. I can’t be the younger woman with the world I once had, but I can enjoy the season again. Merry Christmas, ya’ll………

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.

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…..

human

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…..)

power

In reading an article about Helen Mirren in a magazine, something she said about sexuality caught my attention:

Sexuality for girls is so complex and tricky. I was never beautiful, but as a young woman, beautiful or not is sort of irrelevant. Being a sexual object is mortifying and irritating, yet it’s giving you power–an awful power that you’ve done nothing to deserve, a powerless power. I think some young women fall in love with that power…

The quote stopped me because the power of that power was what I was trying to portray in Princess Henriette in Before Versailles and hopefully portrayed in Rene de Keroualle in Dark Angels…..the heady excitement of knowing you’re noticed, of seeing your effect upon men….how that notice can become so needed….the power of beauty. Mirren contends that is may not even be beauty; it may simply be sexuality, a girl’s sexuality that makes her desired by the other…..I love the articulation of “an awful power that you’ve done nothing to deserve.” Is it truly powerless? I don’t think so.

What do you think about sexuality in girls on the verge of becoming women? What do you think about the power Mirren speaks of?  Did you have it? How did you navigate it?

Ah, the stuff of novels for me…….

the wall

I added to my collage wall today. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that. I’ve stepped into the last year of my ninth seven-year cycle….I move into the beginning of a new seven-year cycle next year. The base of this collage wall is a drawing made sometime in my forties, when my internal life resembled a trek in a fire-ravaged forest, no green visible anywhere. Atop that is life since then, anything that has attracted the magpie in me….pretty ribbon, words from friends, beautiful art cards or wrapping paper, a few photos. I can see it from where I work, and sometimes I’m amazed at all that’s pinned up there, amazed that I really no longer remember much of the fire.

I’m moving into an end game in this journey. I don’t write that to be dramatic, but to be soberly clear with myself. There may be less than one seven-year cycle left to me, or I may attain more. What do I want to do with this long or short season left? Health, for one thing, as I watch Alzheimer’s take my mother. A live Robert Earl Keen concert instead of just listening to the mix my son made for me, that’s another, but small. If it doesn’t happen, I won’t really care. I don’t long for foreign lands, but I do long for meaning.

Time for another bucket list, a deeper, gutsier one….what’s yours? What would make you say, today, today is a good day to die?

 

 

boundaries

The cats and Youngest Grandson have reached detente. There won’t be war, but relations remained strained and wary, at least on one side. When he was crawling, they could watch him from a distance if they were so inclined and then leisurely stroll off as he made his way toward them. Now, he walks.

The last time he came over, both were in their deep nap time. He’s so excited when he sees them, saying Cat! in a loud voice and often squealing, which neither cat is fond of. In fact, the squeal is usually when they disappear. But this time, neither moved as he approached slowly. I’m trying to show him how to go slow. I like it that they are more accepting of him, but I also know he has to be careful. I held his hand so that he could very softly pet one of them. It was almost more than he can bear. Cat! he said loudly, then there was the delighted squeal and a stomping of feet and a crow of laughter. The squeal sent one running, but the other didn’t budge, other than to open a green-hued eye. There was another stroke or two, then I distracted him to finding the other cat, which of course we didn’t. (Cat go bye-bye, he said to himself over and over.) I don’t want this to descend into scratches, though cats can be elegant in their boundary setting.

I have a memory of my older grandson. He was at the walking age. We were taking a walk, and there was a cat atop some front steps. The cat just watched as he exclaimed and walked up the steps. He was so excited and eager. Before I could move, something in his excitement went too far, and fast as summer lightning on a desert plain, the cat reached out and smacked him hard on the head, twice. No claws extended, just two very hard taps. Then she was gone.

He sat down in tears and wailed. I laughed as I comforted him…..What a velvet stop-it-now….the best I’d ever seen.