Category Archives: Geroge I

merrychristmas

cropballChristmas is the time when we scurry home……actually or in memory.

And what is home? It’s where we come from, what we embrace or flee, what has shaped us. It can be safe, or it can be dysfunctional, but at Christmas, we’re drawn back. Why?

Is it yearning? Is it idealism? Is it instinctive, the way swallows return to Capistrano? Do we search for childhood innocence, for sweetness, for wonder? Do we find it?

I am growing to believe that what we find depends on what we’ve developed inside. It’s as deep as we are, as broad or as narrow, as hurt or as healed. Once upon a time, the tree with its bright, blinking lights was enough to soothe us. Promise was enough.

This season resurrects our lost child, and it seeks what was, but just as likely wasn’t. It seeks solace. It seeks affirmation. It seeks to be soothed. We want so to believe that promises do come true, that we are o.k., that we are worthy enough to receive love’s bright light.

May all your Christmases be white.

cropball

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

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.
 

madness

Here’s something I wrote for Creative Madness Mama. At first I felt like I had no idea what to say, but I started anyway and before I knew it, words flowed out. That’s the way it is with writing prompts, why I like them, why writers who feel stuck should practice with them………
I wish I were creatively mad. Perhaps then I wouldn’t worry so. But when I think about it, creative madness does have me. Why write about a family in the early 18th century and become so engaged with them that you take the story backwards instead of forwards to write about the grandmother? Why take the story backwards instead of forwards? Why spend your days imagining what a character might have said or how she/he would react? Why read biographies and social commentaries and memoirs and funny old almanacs and recipe books? People around me rise at 7 am, go off to work in a cubicle. I can stay at home in my pajamas and daydream about other centuries and people who aren’t real, or who were real but now are gone. That’s crazy, that’s madness. That’s creative……………..

 
The best part of creative madness is when I know I have the story. It’s when the characters become as real as someone I live with. To leap off the reams of biography and commentary about Louis XIV and know him when he was 22 and vulnerable and wanting to live up to an ideal was crazy and incredibly liberating. I became very fond of him in Before Versailles. I hope you become fond of him, too…….
Do you ever experience creative madness? 

process

What I have learned after 4 novels: not to think about process when I write, to be as unselfconscious about writing as I can be because  that makes my writing more free and authenic and allows surprising things to happen. However, I do like to answer intelligent questions about process once I’ve finished. This is for the blog BooksIDoneRead. (I’m on a blog tour at the moment, which means I do guest posts for blogs that cover reading and/or historical fiction.)

1.)   Well-researched Historical Fiction, such as yours, is a treat to readers who love to time-travel to luscious landscapes, seeing through the eyes of historical personages such as Louis XIV. Why do you think Historical Fiction plays an important role in connecting readers with the past as well as helping them understand our world today?

Historical fiction is just more fun to read than history, unless the historican is a fine writer, such as David McCullough or Antonia Fraser (my favorite). Wise folk says we learn from our past….we can’t learn from our past if we don’t know it, and historical fiction is a way to get into an era. If you like the era, you can read the factual sources, memories, biographies, etc. The story behind the fact –date of the treaty, time of the assassination, who did it—always grabs our emotion. Fiction allows a play with that emotion, a play that, if the writer can write, pulls a reader in and gives them insight to what is too often dry factual information.

 2.)   I first read Through a Glass Darkly because a friend compared it to Gone With the Wind: a sweeping historical epic that I was so in the mood for!  Before Versailles has the same ambitious and well-realized scope.  What books and authors have most influenced your flare for these epic novels?

 I read Frank Yerby and Frank Slaughter, both historical novelists, as a child. I think they had a great deal to do with my innate gravitation toward historical fiction. I read a lot of Louisa May Alcott as a child, and she handles many characters and moral direction well. I love Winston Graham’s first six or so Poldark Saga books because of characterization. I love Daphne du Maurier’s Frenchman’s Creek and King’s General for the narrative voice. I love Georgette Heyer for the silly, fun little comedy of historical manners she wrote….small plots, small characters, but so well done and amusing. I adored Herman Wouk’s Winds of War. Now there was an epic.

3.)   The Sun King is a famous subject and many readers will have strong opinions about him as well as imaginative or academic ties to 1660’s France. As an author of fiction, what choices do you find the most difficult when it comes to balancing truth and fiction to appeal to a large audience?

The truth is I don’t worry about appeal. I think only in terms of story as I’m writing. Finding it is my quest. In other books, and likely in the ones to follow Before Versailles, I have always used actual historical characters as secondary characters in the plot. I like the freedom a non-actual hero/heroine gives me. So the trick with writing Before Versailles was to leap off all the research I’d done and knew, to move past the fear of making a mistake around an iconic historical figure, and make Louis XIV human. I think I succeeded. I know I did because I ended by having a crush on him and feeling like I knew him the way I know beloved friend……….

4.)   Not only does Before Versailles paint a vivid picture of one of history’s most renowned monarchs, it focuses on a crucial period in King Louis’ life—peppering it with intrigue and romance.  How did you get into the mind of the young Louis and what tactics did you use to help bring him so colourfully to life?

There are no tricks. I simply try to imagine what the character must be feeling. When I know that and trust my knowing of it, I have the character, so to speak. If Louis seems colorful and not factoid, it’s because I showed readers his emotion.

5.)   There are several wonderful characters in the novel: the boy in the iron mask, Cardinal Mazarin and Louis’ mother, to name a few. How did you select which characters to portray fully as you painted this portrait of a young king’s history?

To select accessory characters was diffcult because so much is known of Louis’s court, and the court was big. Mazarin and Queen Anne are key, however, to the man he became. My research and my own sense of character told me that. Now Mazarin is only a memory, Louis’s memory, in Before Versailles. But he has just died in the story, and he was very much a father figure and a mentor to young Louis, so his death would have been profound and Louis would have been thinking of him, measuring himself according to Mazarin’s standard. His mother was an intelligent woman who survived an awful marriage and young reign. She was clever, and she was loving to Louis. She was also powerful. All of this seemed natural to portray to help readers understand where Louis was coming from.

I found the idea of a young court, of so many of his friends around him, of how he would claim power among them, and his relationship with his brother, just intriguing and felt readers would also, once they understood the dynamics.

6.)   You’ve written extensive historicals with settings in France, England…even Virginia! Where, as a writer, do you feel most “at home”?

In a research book and in the pictures research creates in my mind. More at home in England and France, and more at home with later history, 1660 onward, because it’s not so lethal and cruel. More modern sensibilities are beginning to be formed. The cruelty of other eras, the lack of respect for life, is not my cup of tea………

7.)   You mention on your website that you prefer European history to American because American history is so “male.” If you could re-imagine one historical event in which a woman’s leadership might have led to a different outcome, which event would you choose?

Sounds like a great plot for a novel….and far too heady and intelligent for me…..what do you think? I think women who have children are less likely to support war, particularly if those children have no choice but to fight in them……but so much depends on the standards of the times.

 8.)   You’ve written for magazines and specialty news periodicals. How does this background inform your research and the details and perspectives included in your fiction?

Fiction and nonfiction are such different beasts. I did learn to organize lots of information writing nonfiction, organize and focus, and now that I think on it, that skill is probably why I can write big stories that sweep a reader along. But I cannot emphasize enough how different fiction and nonfiction are. Fiction is writing without the net. Nonfiction always has the net of the facts. Fiction is scarier and brings up all your inner demons as you write. 

If you’re interested, Before Versailles paperback giveaways some time this coming week at blogs: Enchanted by Josephine, A Book Bloggers’s Diary, Creative Madness Mama.