Friday, July 30, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"[N]o es vencido sino el que se cree serlo."

"Only the one who believes himself to be defeated is."

Fernando de Rojas (1465-1541), Castilian author
La Celestina [Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea] (1499), Act 4

Monday, July 26, 2010

Write Like a Pro

Some days I think I'd rather walk into a room full of professors and defend my dissertation a second time than sit down in front of the blank computer screen and start a new chapter of my novel. Well okay, maybe not, but when I'm faced with a blinking cursor and no idea on earth what to do with the next 3500 words -- never mind the 80,000 following those -- just about any activity from ironing undershirts to scrubbing toilets to extracting clover, leaf by leaf, from the front lawn appears infinitely more appealing.One of my favorite methods of procrastination involves reading books on craft or creativity,for I can convince myself with little effort that I'm "working," learning skills and tricks that will render that first key-stroke all the easier the next time I do sit down to write. Yesterday, I didn't have to hoodwink myself to justify my dilatory reading, for I devoured a book that has the power to change my (writing) life if I take its message to heart. A short but powerful reflection on resisting creative endeavor, screenwriter and novelist Steven Pressfield's The War of Art (Grand Central 2003) was worth every minute it kept me from producing pages of my own.

The War of Art is divided into three sections. In the first, "Resistance: Defining the Enemy," Pressfield examines the characteristics and operations of Resistance, which he defines as the force that separates the life we live from the unlived life within us. Self-generated, Resistance keeps us from following the calling or action that we must follow before all others; it prevents us from doing the work -- be it artistic, charitable, scientific, spiritual or entreprenurial -- through which we will produce the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give. "The more important a call or action to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it" (12). Think of Resistance as "self-sabotage" and it is easy to identify the many forms it takes: procrastination, obsessions, self-dramatization, hypochondria, victimhood. Pressfield boils Resistance down to its essence: fear. Fear, however, serves a useful purpose, for "it tells us what we have to do" (40). The extent of our fear indicates the importance of our task: "The more scared we are of a work or a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it" (40). If a project meant nothing to us and was unimportant to the growth of our soul, we would feel no Resistance towards it.

Yet how does the writer/scientist/entrepreneur over come the fear that paralyzes her? By "Turning Pro," as Book Two explains. Becoming a professional, Pressfield reveals, means nothing more (and nothing less) than sitting down despite one's fear and doing one's work. The professional shows up every day, no matter what, and stays at the job until the whistle blows. She's committed over the long haul, masters the job's techniques, and doesn't over-identify with the work (69-70). The professional acts in the face of fear, unlike the amateur, who believes she has to first overcome her fear before she can do her job: "The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist.... [H]e forces himself forward in spite of his terror. He knows that once he gets out into the action, his fear will recede and he'll be okay" (79). As for rejection and criticism? The professional refuses to take it personally, for doing so only reinforces Resistance. Resistance is the enemy, not editors and critics; the professional does not allow external criticism fortify her internal foe (88). In contrasting the traits and habits of the amateur with those of the professional, Pressfield encourages the reader to take charge of her situation and implement the changes that will advance her from one state to the other.

The final section of the book, "Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm," situates Pressfield's thoughts on Resistance and professionalism into a spiritual framework. He assures us that when we create, we are in touch with our truest selves and the divine and well along the path to discovering our purpose in life. "We come into the world with a specific, personal destiny. We have a job to do, a calling to enact, a self to become" (146). If we refuse to do this job, we hurt more than ourselves, for we deny others the very thing we were given unique talents to achieve. Far from a selfish act, creative work becomes a gift to the world (165), one that needs to be undertaken with dedication, persistence and love.

Both practical and philosophical, The War of Art is one of the most inspiring books I've read, one that I'm sure I will be turning to often for encouragement. I recommend it to anyone who finds themselves blocked in their creative endeavors or searching to reconcile work with life's larger questions. And although I hate the word, I have to use it in this case: Pressfield's work is empowering for anyone who suspects fear is preventing her from realizing her potential. I'll leave you with this:

Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance.
This second, we can sit down and work. (22)

That blinking cursor doesn't seem so scary anymore.

[Many thanks to Jennifer Fulwiler at Conversion Diary for bringing this book to my attention.]

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Royal Treatment

Tradition holds that Catherine de Medici introduced the fork to France; could it be that François I introduced yoghurt? From an article in yesterday's Guardian on the history of the curdled delight:

"[I]t took a long time for yoghurt to become a staple. In 1542, François I lay mopish and squitty with diarrhoea, depression or both. The French king heard that his ally Suleyman the Magnificent in Constantinople had a remarkable Jewish doctor who reportedly cured anything with a miracle tonic made from the milk of his sheep. François sent for the medic, who trudged across Europe with his flock over several weeks to reach Paris. A course of sheep's yoghurt was prescribed, and the king was cured. All the sheep died, sadly, and the doctor headed home despite François pleading for him to stay."

What, the milk from French sheep wouldn't cut it? In any case, the good doctor's journey gives new meaning to the term "house call"!

Monday, July 19, 2010


The winner of Catherine Delors's



Debbie from Deb's Desk


Debbie, please send your mailing address to
juliannedouglas05 [at] sbcglobal [dot] net.

Thanks to everyone for entering the drawing.
Enjoy this marvelous read, then help spread the word!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Every man who tells a tale usually taints it with his own invention, either through malice or vanity, and always moreso rather than less."

Mateo Alemán (1547-1614), Spanish novelist
Guzmán de Alfarache (1599 and 1604), picaresque novel

Sunday, July 11, 2010

King Arthur's Conference Room

Have archaeologists located the site of King Arthur's round table? Fascinating conjecture that the table was not a piece of furniture but an amphitheater where 1000 followers of the king could gather.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Tea and Pastry with Catherine Delors

Yesterday saw the release of Catherine Delors's second novel, FOR THE KING (Dutton). To celebrate the release, Catherine has stopped by to answer a few questions about the book, herself, and writing in general.

1. The historical note at the end of the book describes the fascinating life of the historical Joseph-Pierre Picot de Limoëlan, who later became a Catholic priest. Did Limoëlan ever publicly express regret for his part in the rue Nicaise attack? Did the Sisters of the Visitation in Georgetown, with whom he ministered, know his true identity and the story of his past?

To my knowledge, Limoëlan never publicly expressed regret over the part he played in the Rue Nicaise attack. He moved shortly afterwards to the United States, where the event may not have caused as much of a shock as in Europe. As for the sisters of the Visitation in Georgetown, it seems highly unlikely that they were ignorant of his past. They knew, but they believed in redemption, one of the tenets of the Catholic faith. As I write in my historical note, I am convinced that Limoëlan’s belated repentance and conversion were sincere.

2. The resistance of the Chouans to the republic and to Napoleon is a chapter of French history little familiar to American readers. Were the Chouans a force to be reckoned with or a mere annoyance? How close did they come to reinstating the king?

The Chouans were a major political and military force. On Rue Nicaise they came only a few seconds away from blowing up Napoléon. Had his coachman been less alert that night, they would have assassinated him right then and there, years before he crowned himself Emperor.

It may not be generally known, but in the spring of 1815, the Chouan insurgency had been revived. A full French division was again busy battling them in the Western provinces, instead of being under Napoléon’s command at Waterloo, hundreds of miles away. The French forces were outnumbered almost two to one on that battlefield, so you could say the Chouans changed the fate of Europe that day. Ultimately they were instrumental in the defeat and ouster of Napoléon.

3. How did you become interested in the rue Nicaise attack?

The 9/11 attacks prompted me to revisit the Rue Nicaise plot. The number of casualties is without common measure, of course, but it was the same callous disregard for human life, the same blind hatred, all in the name of a superior “cause.”

4. Your secondary characters, such as the Secretary General Piis, and even characters who figure only momentarily in the novel, like Pulchérie Fontaine, seem as real and three-dimensional as your main characters. Do you do a lot of work developing your characters before you begin writing? What, in your mind, is the "secret" to creating believable characters?

Thanks, Julianne! For historical characters, I do my biographical research beforehand. I love to work with lesser known figures like Piis, where there is little more than a sketch of the real person. Then, as I write, they come to life by themselves, and sometimes they quite surprise me. For purely fictional characters like Roch, I have no idea of what they will become when I begin writing. That’s the magic of the novel: characters are pretty much autonomous from the author.

5. How has your training as an attorney influenced your writing style and/or habits?

In many ways. For instance, in FOR THE KING, it was fascinating to follow the sweeping legal changes that followed the Rue Nicaise attack, and to deconstruct the many outrageous miscarriages of justice that ensued.

6. What advice to you have for aspiring authors? What do you see as the future of historical fiction?

My advice to aspiring authors? Brace yourself! This is not a business for the faint of heart. Publication is only one step on a long, long road… The future of historical fiction? I wish I knew the answer, with the business of publishing at large very much in flux. Frankly I don’t think anyone can answer the question at this point.

7. Which of each of the two choices best describes you? Comment as you see fit.

-- tea or coffee? I am a self-confessed tea addict. I like coffee, but the feeling is not mutual.
-- mountains or seashore? I love both! My mixed Auvergne and Normand ancestries, I suppose…
-- morning or evening? Evening.
-- soccer or tennis? I usually prefer soccer, but after the performance of the French team at the World Cup… enough said.
-- kir or pastis? Kir.
-- designer boutique or bargain basement? With your permission, Julianne, I will stick with the bargain basement until FOR THE KING hits the NYT list.
-- millefeuille or bagel? Millefeuille, hands down.
-- Balzac or Hugo? Balzac, a childhood –and lifelong- love. I read EUGENIE GRANDET dozens of times, always with a renewed sense of wonder.
-- longhand or computer? I am dyslexic, which makes it very difficult for me to handwrite. Computers are a blessing for people like me.
-- carriage or horseback? Horseback. More flexibility!


Catherine has surrendered all her secrets, but the characters in FOR THE KING are much harder nuts to crack. See if you can figure out what they're hiding before Roch solves the case. Enter the drawing to win a copy of Catherine's fabulous book or pick one up one at your local bookstore.

Thanks for playing, Catherine!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Review and Giveaway: FOR THE KING by Catherine Delors

In the aftermath of 9/11, talk of sleeper cells and suicide bombers has become daily fare in the news media, making it all too easy to assume terror attacks are events particular to twenty-first century life. However, London's failed Gunpowder Plot in 1605 and Chicago's 1886 Haymarket Square bombing are but two incidents historians could cite to disprove this assumption. A conspicuous third would be the Christmas Eve bombing in 1800 on the rue Nicaise in Paris -- the subject of historical novelist Catherine Delors's riveting new novel, FOR THE KING (Dutton, July 8).

Six years after the end of the Reign of Terror that culminated the French Revolution, Napoleon has overthrown the constitutional government and installed himself as First Consul. This power grab pleases neither the radical Jacobins, whose egalitarian philosophy fueled the Revolution, nor the royalist Chouans, who want to reinstate the monarchy and recenter the country on its Catholic foundations. So when an "infernal machine" hidden in a cart explodes along Napoleon's route to the Opera, sparing the Consul but killing twenty-two bystanders, maiming fifty-six and destroying the forty-odd houses that line the street, either group could conceivably be responsible. Convinced the Jacobins organized the attack, Napoléon orders over one hundred of them arrested, including the outspoken but harmless aged father of the city's Chief Inspector, Roch Miquel. The powerful Minister of Police, Fouché, blames not the Jacobins but the Royalists. Roch's self-serving mentor grants the young inspector one month to prove him right, ensuring Roch's assiduity in cracking the case by threatening to deport Old Miquel to Guiana. In a race to save his father, Roch quickly links two suspects proposed by Fouché to the crime, but the suspects' whereabouts -- as well as the identity of a mysterious third man, mastermind of the attack -- prove frustratingly difficult to determine.

FOR THE KING is a thriller, not a mystery, for unlike Roch, the reader knows from the outset who orchestrated the crime: Joseph de Limoëlan, a member of the royalist insurgency, aided by two accomplices, the men fingered by Fouché. Delors paints a fascinating portrait of Limoëlan, a nobleman whose father and kin were guillotined during the Revolution and whose anger and hatred allows him to disregard the suffering he causes in his quest for revenge. In contrast, Roch, a parvenu struggling to establish himself in the new republic, displays an honor and integrity his father ingrained in him despite years of poverty and wandering. In committing the crime, Limoëlan fights for his father in a figurative sense; pressed to prosecute it, Roch fights for his in a literal one. Antagonist and protagonist are further linked through the protean Fouché, father to nothing but his own interests, and the beautiful, secretive Blanche Coudert, trapped in marriage with a man old enough to be her father. Place all this in the context of a country that has just executed its king and whose inhabitants now consider themselves "children of the fatherland" (enfants de la patrie, according to La Marseillaise) and FOR THE KING becomes a rich exploration of identity, loyalty and the dynamic tension between past and future in the creation of self and nation.

Delors, an attorney, spent many hours researching the rue Nicaise attack in the archives of the Ministry and Prefecture of Police Paris and it shows. Her meticulous research allows her to reconstruct with convincing verisimilitude what has been called the first modern police investigation. Even readers who do not usually choose thrillers or mysteries (like myself) will find themselves fascinated as the investigation unfolds and Roch pieces clues together. The realities of life in the early nineteenth century become achingly real as Roch struggles to solve a crime without the benefits of modern forensic technology. Victims die of their wounds before they can be interviewed; witnesses stand in line for hours at the police station for the chance to tell their tales; blacksmiths are forced to examine the putrifying carcass of the wagon horse in the hope that one of them will recognize the animal and identify its owner. Police procedure aside, Delors, without ever resorting to didactic exposition, manages to make sense of the confusing political factionalism that both inspires the crime and determines the course of the investigation. In so doing, she opens up an era of French history little familiar to modern American readers.

Detailing the attack from the perspectives of both perpetrators and police gains Delors entry to all corners of early nineteenth century society, from Napoleon's elegant drawing room to the cramped offices of minor functionaries, from the noisy, wine-stained taverns of the working class to the damp, infested prison cells of the condemned. With a sharp eye for detail and a keen ability to depict nuances of convention and behavior, Delors resurrects the gritty, turbulent, and often dangerous Paris of the common man at a time when egalitarian ideals are struggling to survive. Her characters, even minor ones, are fully fleshed beings with quirks, habits, and histories of their own. Fictional characters prove indistinguishable from historical ones, interacting as equals in the interstices of the historical record where the novelist gives her imagination free rein.

FOR THE KING is quite different from Delors's first acclaimed novel, MISTRESS OF THE REVOLUTION (Dutton 2008), and in my opinion, ultimately more satisfying. Roch comes to recognize and appreciate the love of a devoted woman in the course of the novel, but readers looking solely for romantic adventure will be disappointed. Delors shatters readers' expectations as thoroughly as the infernal machine blows a gaping hole in the Parisian street. Bucking current trends in historical fiction, she abandons the frolics and foibles of the royalty to offer an intelligent and compelling depiction of common people struggling to make sense of an uncertain new world. A writer to watch, Catherine Delors continues to delight and surprise. I, for one, can't wait to see what she offers us next.


Catherine has provided a copy of FOR THE KING to be awarded to one lucky reader. If you're looking for a compelling summer read, leave a comment with your email address by 10 pm PST Sunday, July 18. US and Canadian readers only, please. Winner's name will be drawn at random and posted by noon on July 19.

Check back tomorrow for an interview with Catherine. In the meantime, be sure to visit her website and her always informative and entertaining blog, Versailles and More.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Sixteenth Century Quote of the Week

"Souvent femme varie;
Bien fol qui s'y fie."

"Women are fickle;
Crazy is he who trusts them."

Attributed to François I (1494-1547), King of France
Carved into a window pane in his chamber at Chambord