Tag Archives: “Louis XIV”

commands

k6160536Le Notre has come to visit again. I am so grateful, for his sternness comforts me as I grapple with the middle of the novel whose ending is still vague. Prune here, he announces. Plant there. Lift and carry and work. It’s physical labor, and I need it. October is a grace month in Houston, when humidity lifts and temperatures drop.

I plant violets, not the proud African ones of my girlhood, with their large heart-shaped leaves and deep purple faces, but Australian ones, the only ones I can find, with smaller, less deep emerald leaves and faces that show both white and purple. I love violets, have tried to start them any number of times in my shady yard, which they should love, without success. Le Notre points to where he thinks they might thrive. If you water, he sniffs. His face is lined with age and knowledge and Louis XIV‘s confidence in him. He’s fashionable for his time, a wig, a satin coat, shoes with buckles, a long, long staff like the one Lully used to direct the king’s orchestra. I like this stern taskmaster who tells me what to do in the garden and bears with no excuses.

k6160536I know my garden is symbolic of something, as is my choice of Le Notre as its muse, but I don’t want to probe the symbolism. There are violets to plant. There’s a woman in the novel with a heart-shaped face, who was called a shy violet by history, when it bothered with her at all. She was scorned because she wasn’t ambitious. She turned to God in her pain. Perhaps I plant for her.

trust

DSC_0132I love it when a historian echoes one of my hunches. I read a lot of history: biographies, memoir, overviews, always have since I was a girl and became intrigued with the Plantagenets and Elizabeth I. I think I’m looking for tone, the shading I’ll paint under the story I write. I really don’t know; I just absorb and let the vapor appear filtered through whatever it is that makes up me.

So, I’ve read dozens of biographies about Louis XIV, and only this one—by a woman—and just read this week said what my gut told me as I wrote a piece of Louis’s personal story in Before Versailles. “The young King, entranced by the sincerity and intensity of Louise’s feelings towards him, loved her as he had never loved before, and was never to love again.” (Therese Louis Latour 1924) As I read other biographies, in which Louise de la Valliere is a footnote, glanced at and abandoned by the writers, I always felt there was a unique tenderness in the love affair. And that’s what I wrote.

DSC_0132It’s nice to have my hunch validated, even if the writer isn’t current or well known. I think much of what I do has to do with subtlety. And I must trust subtlety.

Grace notes: Saw a dove sitting in her nest in one of my trees. Nests used to mean much to me; they were a symbol of my own task in this younger life I was living.

buzz

640px-Carpenter_bee copyThe garden is keeping me sane right now while I struggle with the middle of this book. What I’m really struggling with is not knowing. I have a vague plot, but nothing precise because the way I write, character has to lead to the next action. So I have to feel right in the character before I feel right in the action. Whine. Whine. Wine. Please.

640px-Carpenter_bee copyI feel like the carpenter bees that love the cedar of my garage. They drill precise holes and burrow in and out to forage. But the return is never easy. They hover clumsily before the hole they’ve made, can float for hours before they enter. They remind me of landing craft whose pilot can’t make a decision.

So I can’t get in my hole of a story again easily once I leave it. To distract myself from the fear that this time I may not pull a novel together, I garden. I’m in the clean up, prune, unglamorous stage. Sweating. Hauling. But I have focus and a plan. I can see what needs to be done, and I do it. Done. Finished. Finito. New task. Next, please. Straightforward. Right there in front of me. Unmistakeable.

640px-Carpenter_bee copyIf I look back over this blog, I see my whines about my last novel, Before Versailles. As the Duchess always says, Nothing changes and everything does.

Sigh.

april

cropballSitting in the backyard swing under the big, old camphor tree and words came:

A glass of wine—

fat carpenter bees —

wind swirling green-tipped trees—

April heaven in the garden bower…….

Normally I play to turn it into a haiki, but I was too April lazy. It had been awhile since I’d had an impulse of words. I need to leave more time for daydreaming.

Research news: I leave for The Netherlands soon. I meet with a historian in Maastricht to talk about Louis XIV and his war on the Dutch. And we’re going to Paris for the day on the bullet train to see the war museum and an exhibit on the musketeers. And I’ll meet a historian friend of his there who specializes in the musketeers.

Lucky me. One for all and all for one………cropball

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.

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.

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.

iron man

So here begins a series of craft and research blogs I’m doing for various sites to publicize the paperback of Before Versailles. At the end, I’ll point you to sites that have giveaways of the paperback……………

The man in the iron mask in an intriguing story in the history of France. The person who brought it to light was the famous French philosopher and historian Voltaire. Legend is that when the Bastille was stormed during the French Revolution, a skeleton still wearing its iron mask and remnants of the clothing of Louis XIV’s time was found in a dungeon. There is no proof the discovery was true, but the tale reverberated. It’s a good story and was used by famed writer Alexandre Dumas as a tiny piece of his long plot in his saga of three musketeers. Dumas made the prisoner Louis XIV‘s twin brother. Voltaire conjectured that the prisoner was Louis XIV’s real father, though some sources say the man was a brother. All sources say there was indeed a prisoner who had to be treated with great respect, of whom no record or name was written down, who wore, perhaps, a black silk mask because no one was allowed to see his face. In the museum of Langres there is a simple iron mask on display which is said to be the mask the famous, unknown prisoner wore. Was the man a spy, a valet, a nobody, a king’s brother, a lover of a queen? No one knows the truth, and much speculation is based on letters and gossip that can’t be proved. But it is what I call a “yummy” story, one that directly connects to the time of Louis XIV, and my feeling was, if Dumas can use it in his fiction, so can I. I was glad to have it; it moved the plot of Before Versailles in a way I hadn’t anticipated and helped me form the character of Louise de la Baume le Blanc, or as she is better known, Louise de la Valliere.

For more detail, read The Man Behind the Iron Mask by John Noone.
This blog written for Broken Teepee, and there’s a giveaway.

maze

I can’t find the story yet. There are 50,000 words in the computer, but there isn’t a story. This always happens, but because it takes me several years to write a book, I always forget. When I was writing Before Versailles, it was two very rough drafts before I realized the story was Louis XIV’s. It took forever and a day to find what the heartbreak would be for Barbara in Through a Glass Darkly and then build around it. In Dark Angels, I played for months with a romance between Princess Henriette and Monmouth, none of which I used, and thought for awhile I was writing the Louis XIV story I wanted to write….not.

Why do I wander aimlessly for so long? What do you do when you’re lost in the maze? You know this is why writers drink.