Category Archives: story and love

splendor

Flipping around, looking for something to wile away time, I came across Splendor in the Grass, about young love. I cried at the end, as I always do. Why? Because Deanie, the heroine, tries so hard to be a good girl. And when being a good girl loses her the boy she loves so deeply, then she tries to be sensual. But her being a good girl is important to him, too, because he loves her. She breaks into pieces and when she is back together again, he has moved on. And so has she, driving away from the ranch where she has just met his wife and seen the child that might have been hers. She isn’t pathetic. She is lovely inside and out and moving forward with her own life. But what might have been is there in the car with her and with the viewer.

It made me think again of becoming a woman and of sex and how a girl-woman goes forth to meet that part of her destiny. Before birth control, the complications were huge. But after birth control, I think it’s all still complicated. I know a girl-woman who is so in love with her someone, who loves her back. Will her being able to explore sexuality more safely guarantee happiness? It’s so complex, this journey into a sensual self. Society doesn’t make it simple; religion often makes it sinful; conventionality tries to make  it invisible and nondisturbing.

Maybe it shouldn’t be simple. I don’t know. I just know from my own experience that the journey can be so difficult. That journey is often what I explore in my novels.  These are the lines from Wordsword at the center of the story:

What through the radiance

which was once so bright

Be now for ever taken from my sight,

Through nothing can bring back the hour

of splendour in the grass, 

of glory in the flower,

We will grieve not, rather find

Strength in what remains behind……

What do you think?

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…..

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…….

bubbles

There’s a beveled glass window set high in the wall of the master bathroom. In the afternoons, the sun shines through it to make prisms of light on the tile floor. When my first grandson was very small, he saw them one day and exclaimed, “Rainbows!”  His seeing them, his excitement, touched me. And then he became older, as did I, and we forgot about them.

Now my second grandson, not 2 yet, has seen them. “Bubbles,” he cried yesterday in a voice of wonder. He walked among them, putting his feet in each and every one, looking at me and smiling. I see them every day and never think to exclaim at their beauty. I don’t notice them. I don’t put my feet in them in delight–which is the wonderful thing about being around young children: their wonder at the world. It reminds me of the mantra I want to age by: make me sweet again, fragrant and fresh and wild and grateful for any small event……like my youngest grandson….

Another note: Headed west today to teach a writing class in Alpine, Texas . Passed through a lot of big country, little civilization, country that reminds you you are not the center of the universe, that you’d better work with the universe to survive. Neil Young sang as I drove….This old guitar is only mine for awhile…..

spaces

I’ve been driving across a lot of vast, open spaces in the past few days….the beginning of plains country around Amarillo and the high desert and desert of New Mexico stretching all the way to mountain. Dad has been on my mind. He was about the same age I am now when he died. And I never really knew him. If he could have waited on me to grow up more, to be able to sit in the discomfort that was always between us, we might have been able to have some real conversation, or if not that, that sincere quiet that can reside between two people who love one another. My Dad was a child of the Great Depression, and that marked him all his life. He left home early; by 16 he was off to college and then to the Merchant Marine Academy. He was forthright and opinionated. He drank too much and said things I would imagine he regretted later. It was the saying of those things that put distance between us. They hurt, and by the time I was 8 I moved some place far back inside myself and never came close to him again. But some of my siblings managed better. My late sister Carmen said she always saw him as a hurt, little boy. My brother loved and admired him and has nothing but that to express when my Dad’s name comes up to this day. But me….I missed an opportunity to know him. I couldn’t get past the fear of hurt. So I’m thinking of him as I drive past vast, open spaces because there was a vast, open space between us, and now I’d like it closed.

heyer

A dull week for me; most of it spent with me sick, something I seldom am. I kept myself occupied by opening Georgette Heyer, the originator of light little comedies of manner set often but not always in the Regency period in England. She has been widely copied, but too few write these little frothy escapes as well as she does because most lack her sense of humor and assured plotting. She makes fun of the pompous, the proper pleased with themselves, and the pious. She understands youthful folly and enthusiasm. She understands yearning. There’s always a handsome, unattainable hero; there’s often an older young woman (late twenties) who is quite happily unmarried. Or the heroine is young and impetuous. At their best, her stories are delightful to me. At their worst, they are contrived, but I don’t mind. I like the way she characterizes spoiled beauties, managing mamas, and lazy older men.

Only 2 of her romances have an ounce of reality…..one in which there is an arranged marriage and almost real heartbreak. Another in which the lady who takes the hero’s heart is unrestrained enough to break it over and over again in spite of his sterling qualities. The first time I read these 2 stories, so many years ago, I wasn’t certain I liked them. They were just outside the very neat boundaries of Heyer’s stories. But I notice that I’ve done the same, woven in a seasoning of reality into the fiction I write, so that in some ways, I’m quite unsafe to read.

What about you? Who is your go-to when sick or in need of rescue from life? Why do we like what we like?

kissing the frog

Princess Diana was there, the sob sisters and brothers of the media said, as they gently dabbed at eyes with hankies. The ring. The abbey in which her funeral had been held. A hymn or two. Bah. Humbug. I’ll tell you how Princess Diana was there. She was there by the fact of Camilla sitting front and center as Duchess of Cornwall. If Princess Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she had, Camilla would be somewhere discreetly in the crowd, and a married Diana and Charles would be grimly watching their eldest son carry on. If Diana hadn’t put up the fuss she did,

her son wouldn’t be marrying an commoner, a real first and almost a Cinderella story, but rather an aristocrat, as Diana herself was, Diana, the sacrificial lamb to the mores of time and centuries of tradition, but a lamb who grew claws.

Before Diana, a married princess bore her lot. Until the 20th century, she married because of political alliance (in Diana’s case, purity was the thing), she had to be virgin, her role was brood mare bearing sons, never mind that the sex gene came from the father because for hundreds of years no one knew that, and she mostly endured a life that might have privileges but very little joy.

There are all these fairy tales about princesses, but the lot of a princess was seldom a pretty one. Most often her husband didn’t love her. Quite often, he didn’t respect her. Whether he did love her or not, women were throwing lures all the time, and most husbands eventually succumbed. The princess had kissed the prince, but too often he really was a frog.

Princess Diana (and no one young can realize her impact; she was movie star gorgeous with real charisma, and she attracted attention and fame) should have quietly allowed Charles his affair with Camilla. That’s what every princess and/or queen before her had done. (And I’m not even going to go into poor Charles, having to marry a virginal aristocrat when his heart was taken. Someone else play that violin.) She kicked. She screamed. She had affairs of her own (risky conduct until 20th century;  George IV wouldn’t crown his wife queen because of her scandals–not that his own was any better, but he was male, after all). Diana  got a divorce. Jesus God!!! Those young can’t imagine how radical that was.

Because of that divorce, Camilla could sit respectably by Charles as his wife. Because of that divorce and all its fallout, Charles could marry the woman he loved and some day be king. His great uncle, King Edward, gave up the throne for the woman he loved.  (Wallis Simpson, who needs a better PR agent).

Three cheers for Diana, gorgeous, bulimic, neurotic, stubborn and media savvy. She cleared a path through centuries of royal male privilege as wide as the tornados that just struck the south. And frankly, it was the awful shock of her dying that did the most wind damage to traditions that put royal women in an unbearable box.

Are we out of the box? Yes and no. Maureen Dowd has insightful comments in the Sunday NY Times about modern Cinderella stories, and Lara Logan, a media princess, was on this week’s 60 Minutes speaking of her horrendous sexual assault and near death.

Too often, there are shards in the glass slipper. And Camilla, well, she wore a very big hat………………..