Tag Archives: “Louise de la Valliere”

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.

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…. 

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.

page proofs

I just sent off page proofs to New York. This means that not another word of the book I’ve finished will be changed. I did something I didn’t expect. I took what I thought was some worldly wisdom out of the book, deleted it. When I wrote the worldly, warning words, I was adamant about keeping them in. I don’t like sticky sweet romances. I feel like they’re a lie. But in rereading the story again, I decided that I wasn’t being fair to the character, who couldn’t know what he would do in the years ahead, and that I was killing hope, that we begin everything with hope. Time or circumstances may change that, but hope is one of the most beautiful things in our lives. We’ve never dare to anything without it. So I dropped lines that were foreboding, showing what the future would hold. I decided they reflected my own cynicism. I don’t want to be a cynic. I want to keep  aspects of a child, but not deny the wisdom of my years.

What are you looking for when you read? An escape? Realism? Adventure? Why do we read fiction?

Louis, Louis

He was the rock star politician of his time, as if Franklin Roosevelt in his prime looked like a dark-haired Sting with a touch of Brad Pitt thrown in. But oddly enough, he isn’t the one who’s hard to write.

It’s the two women, Louise (de la Valliere, as she was known later) and Henriette (princess of England and France), both real, both intriguing, both loved him and were loved by him, and which is my heroine––that is the problem. I’ve decided and won’t spoil the plot of this book by telling all, but how I have wrestled with this, one draft focusing on one, the other draft on the other, and this draft, the polish/final (I hope, please, please) focusing on the winner.

Who’s the winner and why? The one who contributes most to the tension and forward motion of the story. The one who rises to the forefront in my imagination. In real life, I think they were both heroines. What an interesting point in history, Louis, the burgeoning young lion of Europe, loved by his sister-in-law, his wife, his sister-in-law’s maid of honor (and every other young woman in the vacinity….don’t we all love a star?).  And his breaking of the most powerful man in France and his own brother. To take this story and pull it apart and find the meat, the emotional arcs, the why we do things, the consequences of what we do, which is what I love best, has been such a challenge.

I hope, when it’s done (I think this fall, but it isn’t sold yet, so I don’t know when it will come out) that you think it’s worth it. I have tremendous respect for you…the reader. I am a reader, and I love nothing more than when an author scoops me up in spite of myself and takes me to another world. It’s what I attempt in my writing, to suspend time and place, to create another time and place, where real people walked and talked and loved and lost and survived anyway, just like we do.