Tag Archives: Versailles

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.

paperback writer

So the paperback of Before Versailles comes out September 4th. Here’s the new cover.

I’ll be doing a blog tour, and I’ll post those blog entries here for awhile. I’ve been asked great questions: what about the man in the iron mask, how do I research, is creativity wild, who was my favorite character…..it will give you a chance to look at historical novel blog sites, and give me a chance to explain more of my process.

I’m working on another book, which means Before Versailles, which was so real to me for so long, has become misty, like old memory. The people I knew as well as I know ones in my real life have receded, stepped back. They only live on the page. May they live for 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……

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.

wrecks

A big, fat old manuscript sits on my dining room table. It’s the copyedited version of the novel that is coming out this June. I have to read myself one more time! This when I’m trying to begin to discern any strands of the misty cobweb that is the beginning of a novel, the gossamer nothing that is beginning, the story that isn’t there, the idea that can’t quite be grasped. What a fool I am, I always think when I’m beginning a novel (and when I’m deep in it) to think I can do this. I guess it’s because once the story starts to live, it’s hard to imagine it any other way. But until it breaths on its own, I have to have such trust, such faith, such sheer bullheadedness. It was easier when I was younger, the bullheadedness, I mean. The faith and trust are the work of my grey hairs. As English novelist Iris Murdock once said, “Every novel is the wreck of a perfect idea.”