Tag Archives: Before Versailles

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.

 

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.

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.

thorns

My latest book comes out tomorrow. I navigate for awhile in another part of a writer’s life: the public part, being reviewed, discussed, doing a few book signings. I’m out here in the New Mexico high desert on a retreat and different cacti are blooming at the ranch where we’re located. (It was created by one of the creators of Biosphere 2.) Anyway, one of the cacti, the cholla, can’t help but catch your eyes.  It stays a neutral gray green  and spiny all year, but right now there are these amazing rose-like flowers opening all up and down its arms. I’m like that cactus, I’ve decided…..staying internal and blending in with the landscape around me as I work to craft a story. And I keep my psyche and creativity surrounded by thorns so no one gets too close and hurts me because if I get hurt enough, I can’t create. The thorns are also out so I can keep distance around the thing I’m creating, so it doesn’t wither from the wrong kind of attention. But now I’m in flower and whether I want it or not. What I’ve created is out there for show. I feel awkward and gawkily on display. I don’t know how to take compliments or criticism. I don’t know how to be in flower. Only my thorns seem familiar.

awake


There was an article in an old Smithsonian Magazine about Agatha Christie. She kept to herself, didn’t do interviews, had this runaway, hideaway place of a second home, and once, she did run away….disappeared for a time. I’m feeling a little like running away. This is the time in a writer’s life when suddenly there is this exposure, as if you’d been sleeping peacefully and someone pulls back the covers and turns on the lights. My fourth book is about to be out. It debuts officially June 28, and here I am, blinking stupidly at the light’s glow of that. It’s as if I must wake up from a giant sleep and comb my hair and look presentable. I must announce my deed of writing a book. I must explain why I did what I did. Or I must read about someone else’s opinion on why I did what I did and whether I did it properly. The thing about writing fiction is, it’s such a private act. You write and someone else reads, but your paths never cross. There is silence in writing and silence in reading. I’m always whining to whoever will listen about the solitude of my work, but I realize as I must step out of that solitude for a few minutes, how comforting it is, how I love it. I really am a hermit dreaming a dream I write down. Plant dreaming deep….that’s the name of a memoir by the poet May Sarton…..the words resonate right now. Don’t want to unfurl and explain the dream.

rest, rewrite, tinker

I had something planned to write, but the last two days have changed my mind. Here is the truth of being a working novelist. For awhile, I’ve been beginning a new novel, with all the angst that comes with that. And I teach a writing novels class or two (writing can’t be taught, only facilitated), and prepare notebooks of information with each class. Anyway, I carefully measure my time on the novel, not driving crazy hard when everything is so unknown and messy and my nerves fray, but working steadily enough to keep some current of electricity going. When I say working, I mean actual writing, not just research.

Into that come chores for the about-to-be-published novel.  So, last week, I had a notebook to pull together for a class I’m teaching, some work on it done, but also it had to be compiled into pdfs to send to where I’m teaching. And I’d delayed looking at 2nd pass pages that came for Before Versailles, novel #4. 2nd pass pages are the corrections I’d made to the page proofs whose corrections came from the copy edits I approved, deleted, added to. The manuscript all over again. Are you lost yet? Me, too.

And I had a great idea slither in, as they do when one is actively working on something new, about the new novel. I got the idea to begin it differently, from a different point in the characters lives than what I was writing, and the idea had that little tingle that I’ve learned to trust, and I was excited about it. But it meant new research.

However, 2nd pass pages were waiting. Now, I only looked at the pages where I had made changes (I CANNOT read myself in entirety again!), but the job took 2 days, and, of course it came to me, in the soft way that I have learned to take seriously, that I could do a better job on the Author’s Note, a little historical context I threw in at the end. What occurred to me was that I could reshape the Author’s Note to reflect more of the ending and more of importance of one of the characters that I really wanted to highlight, as well as to reflect more of the love story, as well as make it a little less brag don’t-I-know-a-lot-of-history and more poetic and lovely to the reader. So all weekend, I rewrote two pages of material. A word here, a change there. Rest. Reread, tinker some more. I can’t tell you how many times. As well as dealing with notebook typo corrections and those #@#$#@ pdf conversions and some scanning to pdf for the class. And even compressed, the file was too big to send, and I had to make it two files. Kill me.

And my editor and agent and I brainstormed about blurbs over email last week. The editor sends out galleys to various folks hoping they’ll agree to say something nice that can be put on the cover. And so there was checking information on the internet, and I agreed to write notes, none of which I’ve been able to get to. That will be tomorrow’s task. Meanwhile, the new book, which needs its flame tended in the same way you would attend a fire that would be difficult to start again, is pushed to one side.

Oh, and I’ve been cleaning out my office. Three to four years of the clutter and tomorrow-is-another-day that happens when I write a book. Am I feeling a little nuts? Can’t keep all the plates in the air? You bet. And by mid-week, I will be back to making work on something raw and messy and unknown, and there will again be nothing but silence from New York. Writing for a living is not for sissies.