Category Archives: romance

research trip….day 1

I’m in another world, literally and figuratively.

IMG_0354The train station at Maastricht. I miss one of my train connections, but after panic subsides realize the trains run like clockwork and just get on one that names the next town I need to be in. Three train changes later, I’m proud of myself and the kindness and English of strangers.

IMG_0362The view from my hotel window. Heart of the city. Narrow, narrow streets. Houses old in a way we have no idea of.

IMG_0368The statue of d’Artagnan on the edge of what was once fortress walls. Fruit trees are blooming everywhere in the city, and all is spring’s green, a special shade.

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I am taken by my new historian friend on a foot and car trip around the outskirts of the city, so that he can show me how it looked to the French in 1673. We end up in a vineyard, city in sight, because this is where he thinks a famous portrait was posed from. I am reeling with fatigue, but the hosts of the vineyard, friends of his in a d’Artagnan society they all belong to, give us a complimentary glass of wine. The courtyard and buildings are all old stone. We are in the country though the church spires of Maastricht can be seen. Dinner is late, eaten on the busy market square, table after table open to the night, the sun still up even though it’s past 8. I stagger to bed filled with thoughts of churches where long-ago soldiers might be buried and sacred wells whose water might solace them and monks whose vineyards might have thrived where the one I stood in does.

 

sister

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I think I’ll plant daffodils around their headstone. I was in Arkansas this weekend at the small country cemetery where my mother and father’s ashes will one day be buried. Dad was born around here; a sister of mine lived down the road. Daffodils were blooming everywhere, covering yards in thick clusters, and that sister, now gone, was much on my mind. We all planted dozens of bulbs in her yard for her during her last autumn, a few months before she left us forever. Days before she was taken to the hospital—a place from which we all knew she would not return alive—I walked with my daughter to look at the green daffodil stalks in my sister’s yard. They represented love for her. In those months before her dying, we would have done anything for her, bought her anything she wanted, taken her anywhere she wanted to go. There were parts of her that were the best of us.

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My daughter was in her 20s; my sister’s daughters were 11 and 5. I remember realizing that she would never do this simple thing I was doing—walking with a grown daughter. The pain around that was sharp like a honed blade and achy dull at the same time.

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She didn’t live to see her daffodils or her daughters bloom. When I see those flowers in this place near where she had her home and family, she lives again in me; her final, bittersweet leaving is daffodil fragrant inside.  Mom and Dad will like having them nodding their yellow heads around their grave, I think. I think my sister will like it, too.

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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.

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.

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 keep saying good-bye

IMG_0277_2I’m straightening Mom’s room at the place which cares for her. She’s in year 10 of Alzheimer’s, healthy but unable to do a single thing for herself or communicate clearly. I’ve made her room pretty, but more and more I take things away and store them: the costume jewelry someone gave her to play with, the received cards she so loved to tear to pieces and then rearrange, clothes which are too difficult to put on her. If I bring a plant, she doesn’t notice it. I gaze at the things I’ve selected to comfort and define her. Without her zest and vitality, their definition is less and less clear. cameilla

strange

siege_image6What a strange life I lead. I am researching details to write a war scene. I’m reading about demi-lunes and covered ways and bastions and ricochet fire. I’ve already researched it, but I’m going over and over it in my mind before I write it. A character will die in this war scene. If I see the siege in my mind, I’ll be able to make a reader see it. I’m in 1673 internally. In 2014, I’m at my computer looking at old drawings and making notes and diagrams. As the wicked witch told Dorothy, what a world, what a world.

Come into my parlor

louis-small.jpgAs I read over the last draft to see what I have to work with, I’m amazed at how timid I am, afraid to describe fully, show these people in action. The draft is tight, tight with my fears. And now, in the polish, I have to unfurl it, make it blossom, make these worlds of long ago that I find so interesting, alluring for the readers. Come into my parlor, my spider has to say to the fly. And the fly has to go because it cannot help itself.But how to I get there from this tight, frightened draft? Strap on my high heels and start dancing. Dare to be bad so I can get to good. That’s the only wisdom I’ve learned from writing three novels. The anxiety isn’t going away. I need to write a whole draft, no matter how dreadful it is, not get stopped on reworking good scenes because I feel safe and the writing sings. I can make it better because when I’m through with a draft, I know the people and I know the plot a little more fully. But I can only learn such things through that process of the draft with all its mess, meandering paths, wrong turns, undeveloped characters.

I didn’t think Louis XIV would be the main character in this novel, and he is. That surprises me. It pleases me, too, because it’s hard to let go of history, what the biographies say, to create a character. That’s why real people who lived in the time periods I write about have always been side characters before.

But Louis was the headline of the 1600s. Why would he allow anything different now? The French court is a maze of intrigue and families. It’s been work to sort it out. But now I know the cliques, the twists of friendships. I’m on the polish, and yet I encounter places, as I did today, where I have to write new scenes. Ah, the terror of a new scene. Will it work? What do I know anyway? What makes me think I’m a writer, much less a good one?

Same old fears. Same old hip hop three novels down. You be bad. Every day, there it is. One just has to keep on typing and stay away from the scotch.