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My Writer's Journal

Behind the Books: Marie, Dancing

Marie, Dancing - 2005
File this one under "Where ideas come from." During a visit in 2002 to my oldest son and his family in Rochester, NY, we went to an exhibit of work by French artist Edgar Degas, famous for his paintings of ballet dancers. I was captivated by a small bronze sculpture dressed in a real muslin tutu and wearing actual ballet shoes, her hair tied with a real silk ribbon. The girl is not portrayed as an ethereal beauty--she's a bony kid. It was titled "Petite danseuse de quatorze ans"--Little Dancer Aged Fourteen. The label offered a bit more information: the model was a dancer named Marie van Goethem who sometimes posed for Degas in Paris in the 1880s. The sculpture was the only one Degas exhibited in his lifetime, and it was highly controversial at that time because of its frank realism.

Not much was known about Marie or her sisters, but I was struck by the sculpture and the scraps of information about her. Marie "danced" into my life at a time when I was feeling I had said enough about princesses and queens and longed to write about young women who didn't live in castles or wear tons of jewels or have to deal with royal male egos, mistresses, and temper tantrums.

Research for MARIE, DANCING was a joy. I sat in on ballet classes. I read the novels of Emile Zola and made great use of the Parisian setting of his lugubrious "Therese Raquin." And finally I went to Paris, to visit the Opera where Marie danced, to walk the street where Degas had his studio, to sit in the park across from the apartment building where Mary Cassatt lived. It doesn't get any better than that.  Read More 
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Behind the Books: Duchessina

A Novel of Catherine de' Medici
After writing the stories of Mary, Anne, Elizabeth, and Catherine, always with the maddening and magnificent Henry VIII as the driving force in each woman's life, I thought I was done with the Tudors. (I got some complaints about this; after all, there were four more of Henry's wives waiting for their stories to be told. But, to be honest, I was getting a little sick of old Henry.) However, I'd discovered that I really liked writing about those young women, before they became queens and their stories went off in other directions. I looked for a slightly different subject.

Then I thought of Catherine de' Medici. As usual, I knew next to nothing about her before I started the research--but I did know that she had a bad rap. Perhaps deservedly so, but I wanted to get to know her before she started dealing rather harshly with her enemies.

Duchessina (pronounced doo-kess-EE-na) means "Little Duchess" in Italian--Catherine's early nickname. She wasn't born a princess but the daughter of a very rich and well-connected family. Orphaned as an infant, she wound up living with her influential uncle in Rome who just happened to be pope--a very ambitious pope. When young Catherine fell in love with a boy her uncle knew would not improve his own political connections, he put an end to the romance. Now once again we have a girl of 14 shipped off to a foreign country to marry a total stranger, a French prince who had a mistress old enough to be his mother. It wasn't a happy beginning, but eventually Catherine achieved great power. Unfortunately, she did not use it well.

The best part of the research for this book was a trip to Italy, especially to Florence (Firenze) where Catherine grew up, walking the streets where she walked, visiting the church where she worshiped, staying in an apartment across from her palace. Writing her story was a challenge; how do you handle a scene where she watches her husband making love to his mistress? What about the extremes to which she went in order to get pregnant to provide the king with an heir? And I didn't make any of it up.  Read More 
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Behind the Books: Patience, Princess Catherine

The Tudors: Catherine of Aragon
Just imagine being 14-year-old Catherine of Aragon, daughter of Queen Isabel and King Fernando of Spain, and you're sent off to England to marry Prince Arthur, heir to the throne. It takes weeks to ride your mule across Spain to a port city. You sail for England, but storms just about drown you. You finally reach this strange new country and meet your future husband. He's younger than you, shorter than you, and he doesn't speak Spanish. You don't speak English. You manage to communicate in Latin.

Then your young husband dies. What to do? If you go home to Spain, your in-laws won't return your dowry, and it's huge. If you stay in England, you have no status. You're in your mid-teens, a widow, and a virgin. And you're miserable.

But there, waiting in the wings, is Arthur's kid brother, Henry. He's young--younger even than Arthur. There are those who want you to marry him and those who don't. It doesn't matter what YOU want.

In terms of the historical timeline, PATIENCE, PRINCESS CATHERINE should have been written first. But since I had no idea when I started that MARY, BLOODY MARY would launch a series of Young Royals, it didn't work out that way. The idea of leaving one's home and family and all that was familiar to journey to a distant country for the purpose of marrying a total stranger, knowing that you will never see your parents or your country again--that was a concept that intrigued me.

Catherine's story begins in 1501. In the centuries that followed, that same scenario has been played out over and over, countless young women making long, difficult, and dangerous journeys to join their lives with a total stranger, hoping and praying that it would all work out for the best. Sometimes it did, and sometimes...not so much. Read More 
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