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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!