Category Archives: story

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

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?

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.

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…..

true

“Every action, every item she writes about is incorrect,” a not-fan has posted on Amazon. Now that’s not quite fair. A lot of Before Versailles is true. But then again, to be fair,  some of it isn’t. Some is conjecture; some is guess; some of it is just out and out made up.

As far as I know, the boy in the iron mask wasn’t there. But my theory is, if Alexandre Dumas can play with tantalizing historical whatsit, so can I. There was something, a man in a silk mask, perhaps an iron mask. But no one knows who he was or why he was imprisioned. Voltaire conjectured that he was Louis XIV‘s real father. And the Mazarinades are absolutely true, word for word…..however…..I don’t know if they were secretly recopied and delivered to Louis in 1661. But it made for some great intrigue and gave me a wonderful way to explain his complex and treacherous past. And as for Louis’s real father….well, Voltaire–the literary light of the 18th century– thought there might be someone else other than Louis XIII, and there’s a contemporary scholar who has brought some proof forward that it’s possible Mazarin was in Paris at the right time. And the queen and king were estranged, not for a little bit, but for years. Years. And she committed treason the year of Louis’s conception. And the king was quite ill and preferred his own sex………so, forgive me if I put two and two together and get a number that could be four. And maybe the viscount and the lovely Princess de Monaco didn’t become lovers, but in my story world they couldn’t keep their hands off each other.  And I did make up the names of the pets and am most proud of Odalisque. O.K. I guess I just have to plead guilty. It’s true. I write fiction.

for my son, whose middle name is edward*

*(This was among the first posts I wrote in this blog. I wrote it in 2008, and I think it bears repeating. Hope you agree……) 

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather………

My note this 5/29/11. Elgin, at 90, soldiers on. He lives by himself, drives himself around the little town in east Texas near which he lives, and tends his garden. He still won’t talk about the war. War scars and maims. Men who live on the brink of death bond in a way that is immediate and soul wrenching. Is there a war story in your family? How have the men in your family been impacted? How has that impact reverberated down? And what about the women?

bittersweet

The neighborhood poet has pulled up stakes and moved to Alpine. All week, as I’ve driven past a certain intersection where I can see his house, I’ve watched his packing and bustling. He’s hardly  just the neighborhood poet; he was the poet laureate of Texas in 2008, and he’s more than acclaimed. But for me he’s one of the characters in my Houston world: big, burly, soft Texas accent, friendly as a puppy, wonderful old-world-Texas manners, wildly in love with words. He’s likely to arrive at one of his readings in shorts and an old T-shirt and sandals, his heft punctuating inbreaths, a big turquoise ring capturing one’s eye and the spirit of his words. His frame–large and laughing–– hides the subtle sinewy strength that can reside in his poetry.

We talked a little bit about the muse yesterday. I’m a man of ritual, he said, fretting about the leaving of his writing place, a small studio at the back of his house. I’m taking a chance moving away like this. She may desert me. I said I doubted that. I said I thought the wide open true Texas spaces of Alpine would likely deepen his work. What do you want to bet, sitting there, staring at the mountain, the landscape that has always informed my work, that I start to write about Houston, he said. We both laughed. That would be a good thing, I answered. Landscape makes solid bones in his poetry and can be quite startlingly metaphoric. We really never ran around together as neighbors, but our paths would cross at local spots. Now they won’t. When I see his house at that certain intersection, he won’t be in it. My psychic landscape already misses his place in it. And soon, this being Houston, the house, being old, will be razed, and a stunning, huge townhouse will sit on the spot. Houston does not celebrate landscape or anything old. It’s always moving, expanding, changing its face. Bittersweet, my neighborhood poet said, that’s what this move is, bittersweet.

Yes, I thought. When we’re young, moves are only sweet. It takes time to leaven them with some bitter, the knowledge that with every move, not only do we leave behind sometimes precious, irreplaceable things, we take ourselves, all our flaws and longings, strapped to our backs like invisible weights––or wings––wherever we go. What gold he’s made of his wings and weights…..And so, off he’s gone to where hawks/slingshot-flung,/scream in dazzling/Texas sun.

When you have a moment, hear him read here.

A ladybug update: Festival was held on Thursday. It was a success. There are some 1,000 ladybugs out there bearing blessings and our laughter. Hope one lands near you.

m-m-m and god

Sometime this week, I  hope to hold my second Ladybug Festival. Last year’s festival was a huge success. I dragged it around in my heart for days. Here’s what happens: I buy a package of ladybugs, some 1, 500, so the advertising claims. And then I and my two oldest grandchildren release them. It’s quite a process, as ladybugs fall out in clumps and immediately land on you as well as the nearest plant. They need a moment to take in their surroundings; then they’re off in a flutter of hilariously small wings. Since they look like tiny Volkswagen Beetles, it’s funny when the two small wings unsheath, and they’re gone. My grandchildren and I were in hilarity and wonder over it last year, and I carried a sense of miracle for days. The ladybugs landed on our arms, our hair, our legs, but then they were off, like small blessings searching for homes. So, I want to do it again this year. The package of ladybugs is bought. I need only grandchildren.

Sighting: someone in the Heights has fat clay pots filled with white petunias, fern and trailing alyssum. It stopped me in my tracks, and I had to take a picture.

M-m-m: Youngest Grandson, 15 months, walked by blooming, climbing roses at his house this last week and stopped in his tracks and said, M-m-m, his sound for food he really, really likes. His nose liked this, and he had to smell rose after rose, saying M-m-m every time. Who says there is no God?