August 21, 2015 – Small celebrations: Stars, Poetry and Roses

This is the Celebrating the Small Things blog hop, run by Lexa Cain and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits.

So, what am I celebrating? 

Just pretty things.  I tend to be very visual, and things that make me look and smile

I thought I’d celebrate some beautiful things that, to me, come together.  The first is the last half of the last stanza of Ralph Hodgson’s The Song of Honour, which is nearly my favorite poem of all time.  The other is an image that somehow fits with it.

I stood and stared; the sky was lit,

The sky was stars all over it,
I stood, I knew not why,
Without a wish, without a will,
I stood upon that silent hill
And stared into the sky until
My eyes were blind with stars and still
I stared into the sky.
Design by Toni Ig
And, of course, Roses, like Paris, are always a good idea.

A bouquet of roses brightens a rainy day at Jardins, Jardin Aux Tuileries, annual Paris garden show. © Sheron Long
Paris Flower show at the Jardins des Tuileries. Photo © Sheron Long

What are you celebrating?  

Celebrations, August 14, 2015

Time to celebrate the small things with Lexa Cain‘s blog hop.  Do visit our fearless leader and her two wonderful co-hosts L.G. Keltner @ Writing Off The Edge and Tonja Drecker @ Kidbits.

So, what am I celebrating? 

Let me see…
It has been a difficult week for various reasons.  It is, thank goodness, drawing to a close, which I can celebrate.  It has made me realize that sometimes the things that you celebrate are things that did not happen. 
I am not stuck in California where the drought is becoming dangerous. 

I am not dealing with a terminally ill loved one.

Not sure why Solzhenitsyn has a litter box in front of him…

I am not forced to consider having my 19 year old cat, BJ, euthanized.  (Although, he is so hale, hearty and healthy, he may be celebrating having me euthanized one of these days since I am willing to swear that he may outlive me.  …though he did give me a scare a few months back.) 
I did not give in to my baser instincts and order a pie-o-gram to be sent to various people who have, this week, made life difficult or annoying for me.  No, BJ and Solzhenitsyn were not contemplated as recipients. 

Houses in Picardy…

I am looking forward to the weekend and the (remote) possibility of winning the lottery, if I can remember to purchase a ticket.  This will enable me to sell my house, purchase one in Picardy, and move to France, where I will be able to visit Paris  (which is always a good idea) when it suits me..  One of the units on the left would be satisfactory to me.  …though there are some palaces there that might be nice but for the issue of heating. 
Always a good idea…

I am looking forward to incorporating the corrections outlined by my scribbles (see last week’s post), and I had a bit of a breakthrough regarding a character arc I had been fiddling with.  This involves actual honest-to-goodness writing and is always worth celebrating.

…and now, having indulged some daydreams, I’m off to read the others.

What are you celebrating?  

How Paris Became Paris – A Book Review for The Cephalopod Coffeehouse: September 2014

The biggest mistake a writer can make is to forget to read. 

How Paris Became Paris, The Invention of The Modern City
Joan DeJean

Here is the link to the book.

I enjoy tales of fabulous characters, whether historical or imaginary, that follow them from their first appearance to their moment of highest triumph (or despair).  What brought them about, what made them ‘them’, the turns and twists of fortune?  In the book I speak of this month, one of my favorite characters is studied, her history recounted, illustrations of her growth in grace and charm, some account of the influences that made her what she is… 

This character was formed by a powerful man who, seeing her, visualized her as greater than she was at that moment.  He had the power to direct actions, mold events, and it was through his love affair with this character that events that led her ultimate form were set in motion.  His son and grandson crossed this character’s path, as well, each bringing changes and molding her with their actions and personality

I met this character in person, myself, in May of 1990, during a time of upheaval in my life.  I had wanted to meet her.  Indeed, she was perhaps the most important character of my Work in Progress (‘WIP’) and I had no choice but to meet her and get to know her.  I have to say that I was charmed by her, fascinated, even enchanted.  She remained a very important character of my WIP (Volume 1 is now published).  I love to read about her, to see how others perceive her. 

This month I read a book about her, and I am reporting on it.  And I am chuckling a little because I am not reviewing a book about a queen, a courtesan, a goddess or a great heroine, but a book about a city:  Paris. 

The city of Paris is the setting for a series I am writing.  The first book, The Orphan’s Tale, is out.  I had the idea for the story two years before I traveled to Paris, but the visit served to crystallize my thoughts.  Paris is the first of the great ‘modern’ cities.  Others have copied Paris.  My home city, Philadelphia, has The Ben Franklin Parkway, which is a copy of the Champs-Elysees. The City Hall there is a copy of the Hotel de Ville. 

I needed to understand the history and the development of that city.  I found the book, bought it and read it.  I thought it would be informative.  I did not expect it to be entertaining.

DeJean starts with the sentence what makes a city great?  The book goes on from there.   

Prior to the 17th century, Rome was the most celebrated European city, famous for its past.  People made pilgrimages to Rome to visit its ancient monuments and historic churches, to seek inspiration.  Novelty and excitement were not on the agenda.  And then, in the 17th century, a city was invented (or, I think, reinvented) to hold a visitor’s attention and, itself, to provide enjoyment.  This was Paris, the city as it is now, planned to be changed and enlarged, to grow into what it is now. 

The history is fascinatingly told.  For anyone who has studied European history, the names are familiar.  One king had the idea, his son and grandsons followed.  Essentially, Henri IV invented city planning.  The book follows the changes (wars, invasions, revolutions) and the challenges (a river runs through it).  It was perhaps the most useful thing I read for research, and not nearly as gory as some, history being what it is. 

The construction of the book works.  It is, after all, a history, so flows linearly.  History involves people, and DeJean introduces the statesmen, rulers, ministers and citizens.  The dreamers, the liars, the schemers…  She ties the changes in culture in with the changes in the cityscape.  The wide avenues that Paris is now famous for were novelties that encouraged leisurely strolling.  Not going from one place to another, but strolling to see and be seen.  Flirtation as a pastime, conveyances (fiacres, the original taxi cabs), modes of address…  Architecture, too: the first balconies appeared in Paris, allowing residents to enjoy people-watching.  And if people are strolling past your house, perhaps spiffing it up, or rebuilding it in a more magnificent form was desirable.  And that fabulous piece of furniture, the boon for nappers and waiters-for-friends, made its first appearance in 1678.  The park bench. 
There are engravings of people, reproductions of paintings…

The book contains lots of illustrations including maps, engravings of citizens and celebrities (DeJean comments on them and ties them in to her narrative). 

I bought this as a sourcebook.  Rather like The Civil War Day By Day, or a topographical map of Georgia, which was invaluable for a Civil War novel I wrote.  Sourcebooks are useful, informative, generally interesting but not re-reads.  Enjoyable ones are unusual.  Joan DeJean writes in a flowing, chatty fashion.  The linear structure of the book makes it into a (his)tory rather than an encyclopedia.  For a sourcebook, I give it five stars. 

…And, thanks to this book. I now have the perfect comeback line for someone who says, “Well, Paris was just a jumble of twisty, dark, dirty streets until Napoleon III and his minister, Baron Haussman, tore it all apart and rebuilt the city.”  “No, you’re wrong.  Paris as it is now was planned five hundred years ago.  Go forth and read.” 

Unfortunately, such people are rare.  Sigh.
The Coat of Arms of the City of Paris


Check the others in the hop!

Parisian Encounters – of Cops and Angels

Sometimes reality and mystery intersect in strange ways.  Things that seem unlikely or impossible become probable and likely.  We touch mystery and the sublime as we walk through our lives, and sometimes – but only sometimes – we stop to take a closer look. 

I had an encounter once that on the surface was certainly of this day and age.  I was nearly mugged, at the very least, on a back street in nighttime Paris.  But the echoes it stirred some weeks later spoke of something a little different.  My imagination?  Probably.  I have one, after all. 

I am writing the second book of a trilogy set in 1830’s Paris.  The idea came to me suddenly after listening to music.  Ideas come in odd ways, and when you unravel them, you often find your way to a story, as in this case.

Paris is a hard city to research.  It has charmed people for centuries, but those who seek to know of its physical properties prior to 1860, let us say, are going to run into trouble.  The wide, spacious boulevards that we stroll along, that we see photographed and painted, were sent lancing through the heart of the old city by Napoleon III in the middle of the nineteenth century.  Prior to that, it was a medieval city with crowded, colorful, twisting streets. 

I did not know this when I started writing The Orphan’s Tale.  I solved the problem by making it Alternate History (from a geographical standpoint). 

In those early days I pored over maps, purchased books with illustrations of the different arrondissements, with photos from above, all giving me an idea of the area.  I became very familiar with the streets of the city, which was not necessarily a good thing. 

I arrived in Paris in the late evening of a Monday in May.  The manager at my hotel, after giving me a far nicer room than I had reserved and paid for, told me where I could go to find a nice sandwich for dinner. (“Un crocque Monsieur, Mademoiselle? Bien sûr! You will love it!). It was along the Rue de l’Opera.  My Hotel was near the rue St. Honoré, which parallels it. 

Avenue de l’Opera, Evening

Since I was arrogant enough then to think I knew the area very well from reviewing maps, I knew that I could cut out a dog-leg by following  a street that connected those two major thoroughfares. 

The detour looked fine on the map, but I quickly realized that it was little more than a dark alleyway. My instincts told me to turn around and go back, and I don’t generally ignore them.  As I was about to obey them, three people stepped in behind me, sending my sense of alarm soaring. I now had a very bad feeling. 
What to do?  Turn and face them?  To what good?  It was a high-sided, dark alley.  I was one person and there were three.  I chose to increase my pace.  I was wearing shoes called ‘City Walker’, made for walking in urban areas and styled like high-heeled pumps.  After some years of ballet, I was comfortable in heels.  I walked faster. 

Their pace increased. 

I sped up, myself.  I can walk very quickly, and at this point, with the adrenaline pumping through me and all my senses alert, I was going at a fast jog while not breaking out of my step. 

They increased their pace.  And now the alarms were sounding in my head.  

Half a breath and I was ready to break into an all-out run.  I could see the Rue de l’Opera ahead, not close, but within reach, and if I was ready to scream— 

I drew abreast of a small alleyway and out stepped a tall, strong-looking police officer. Not a Gen d’Arme with the little, beaked, flat-topped hat and the cape, but a municipal cop with a very stern look to him.   He stepped right into the alleyway, hands clasped behind him, and fronted my pursuers, who scrambled to a halt, turned and ran. 

I said “Bonsoir!” rather shakily, my heart thundering in my ears. He smiled faintly and bowed. 

At that moment I had the strangest feeling as though Saint Michael had stepped in to take a hand.  

The rest of my stay in Paris was notable for its beauty and my enjoyment, aside from the moment I realized that I was clicking photos in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in the middle of mass.  (It is a huge structure, and I was not paying attention to the French words).  I realized my gaffe, capped my camera, sat down, and enjoyed the service. 

The Fontaine St-Michel, Paris

I mentioned my near-mishap to a friend, who said “You do know that Michael the Archangel is the patron saint of Police, don’t you?”  

That made me blink.  No, I hadn’t. 

I’m not one of those wifty types (no more than any other writer) and I know what happened: he probably heard the sound of footsteps, realized what was going down, and stepped out to intervene. I think I would have been mugged at best if not for him. 

It is strange how trains of thought will alter your conclusions.  I do know that at some point, some time in the future, I will face that man and say (in French, bien-sûr) “Thank you.  You saved my health, at least, then.”  And it may just be that he will sheathe his sword and say, “It was my pleasure, Mademoiselle.  I trust you enjoyed Paris…”


Celebrate May 30, 2014

It is time to celebrate again (wonderful how celebrations come on each others’ heels, isn’t it!).  This lovely Blog Hop is the idea of Vikki at VikLit.  The hop is still open if you want to join, and there are lovely people involved in posting, remembering, celebrating and being just generally awesome – rather like yourself, don’t you think?

The information on the hop is below.  Why don’t you join?  Or, at least, visit the various posts and smile.

Today I am celebrating the fact that the weekend is coming, thatI may actually get some writing done, and I can sleep in tomorrow.

I am at that frustrating and yet delicious stage in a manuscript where I am, as I say, ‘filling in holes’ and also polishing.

The story is set, the plot twists, which seem to come of their own accord, are in place, and I can start pruning my notes to myself, which I have in situ to remind me where things are going and items I need to remember, such as the fact that the character in the scene met the deceased during a riot where she found him injured and nursed him back to health.

Now I’m adjusting the flow, muttering to myself, and wondering if my editor will mind if I send him a ‘rough-finished draft’ and deciding that since I’m paying him (and her and her), they shouldn’t.

My story is set in Paris, and remembering the time I spent there is something to celebrate.  I went during a time of uncertainty, where my job was going away and I didn’t have another lined up.  But it was research for this story that I am finishing (part of a trilogy) and I decided that I was, for once, going to go with my heart.

Peach Rose

It was a wonderful trip. I went alone, took scads of photos, walked all over the place, had an encounter with Michael the Archangel (hint: he’s the patron saint of Police officers – I’ll post about the experience this weekend), and among other things encountered two beautiful roses in the flower market near Notre Dame.

I went there most mornings, and brought back flowers for my hotel room.  These were the loveliest:

A New Rose (for me)

I had never seen a peach rose.  The edges of the petals were lacy, and there was such a sweet, rich scent, too.  It perfumed my hotel room for days.

I had never seen a rose like this one.  Deep, velvety red on the inner part of each petal, almost pure white outside.  And unlike most roses of this shape, it, too, had a wonderful scent.  I did not see another like it for years.

We’ll always have Notre Dame…

Going there by myself, doing my research, staring in awe at the inside of La Sainte Chappelle, strolling through les Jardins des Tuileries, biting off a swear word as the hotel’s toaster hurled my toast through the air and onto the floor – all were the foundations of a wonderful trove of memories that I can savor as I write about Paris in my WIP that will (God willing!) come out in December.

It’s all worth celebrating.

So what are you celebrating?  (I’m looking forward to reading everyone else’s this evening…)

Insecure Writer’s Support Group – February 5, 2013

Today is the first  Wednesday of the month, which means it is IWSG day. The once-a-month blog hop started by Alec Cavanaugh . IWSG = Insecure Writers’ Support Group (click the words to visit)

We share our insecurities and support each other with empathy, sympathy or practical suggestions. 

“Odd creatures, writers…”

Today I would like to address a concern that just about every writer I have ever known shares.  It is something that haunts our dreams, something that dictates our actions, something that makes our loved ones look at us with one eyebrow raised and extremely quizzical expressions, as though they  have just turned over a rock and seen something truly strange come scuttling out.

The way writers view their words

I am speaking of the terror we feel when we are nowhere near anything that can capture our precious, priceless words as they spring fully armed to our heads, rather like Athene in the old Greek legends.

We have various ways of combating that terror.  Some people carry around notebooks, some use a permutation of a Dictaphone, garnering stares from people who find the spectacle of someone yakking into a box rather diverting in an odd fashion.

Wine stain in left-most towel

There are jotters of all types.  Some jotters never carry around anything upon which they can jot, and are reduced to scribbling on the backs of grocery receipts (those that don’t have advertisements and offers on the back), voided checks, toilet paper (they seldom do that twice unless they are in a public toilet in France where, I am convinced, the TP is made of recycled chain mail.  Or, perhaps, barbed wire.  But then the problem of with what to write arises).  Some of us use paper towels.  I confess to that silliness…  

So what do you do if you accidentally use your deathless words to mop up spilled red wine (see above)?

Wow!  Alas!  Phooey!

Most people use notebooks.  I certainly do.  At any moment I have about four going.  I start out with a dedicated notebook for each story.   Unfortunately, I may pack the notebook for my French story and instead get an idea for the Egyptian story I’m fiddling with at the moment.  What to do?  Snatch a piece of toilet paper (which means I get to travel to France!) and hope I don’t blow my nose on it?  Nah.  I write in the incorrect notebook and make a mental note that the deathless scene is in it.

Of course, then I mis-file my mental note and bewail my fate and mourn the loss of my deathless words.

It’s always a puzzlement…  (I have to bring Yul Brynner in this somehow.

Well, it’s one of those conditions that few of us have conquered. for myself, if (I say IF) I become famous, my descendants will not have to starve in the streets or work in a sweat shop or kow-tow to people who have no more qualification for leading people than silverfish.  And who are, perhaps, less beautiful than silverfish.   (I was going to post a photo of a silverfish here, but after looking them over I decided that I’d rather chew my fingernails.)

What to do?  Well, like many of our insecurities, I just live with it.  I have actually found, when I have located my deathless words, once lost, that they weren’t all that great after all, and what I actually wrote in desperation, just knowing that the story would be ruined – simply ruined! – actually were more fully formed, satisfying and colorful than what I thought I’d lost.

…but without insecurities, would we be real writers?


This is a blog hop with lots of good participation.  Go forth and read!