A Brand New Novel
Josephine Baker, the early-20th-century African-American dancer, comic, and singer–hugely famous in Paris. Did you know that she was also a spy for the French Resistance during WWII?
Have I created a monster? Last night, Blanche de Castille – the White Queen of France and the evil mother-in-law in my forthcoming novel “Four Sisters, All Queens” – tried to kill me.
I don’t recall what I did to offend her. Nothing much, probably. I mean, look what happens to Marguerite, the oldest of the four sister-queens in my novel — and as sweet as a Brignoles peach until she finds herself the target of Blanche’s perpetual and inexplicable ire.
In my dream, I’m imprisoned in Blanche’s castle and awaiting execution. On the day the deed is supposed to happen, I decide to go to her and beg for mercy. To my astonishment, she doesn’t even know who I am – I, her Creator!
“Let me live,” I plead, “and I’ll write a novel to glorify France.”
She ponders the notion. Then she reaches for a livre and – I kid you not – flips it. It lands on the floor heads-up. “Heads! You win,” she says.
But she doesn’t stop there. She picks up the coin and flips it again. “Tails,” she says. “You lose.”
To my relief, she flips it again. Heads. I relax, knowing I’ve won two out of three. But no. She flips it again – tails. Then again – heads. And again – heads.
Now I’ve won for certain. But that chienne doesn’t stop. “There’s something wrong with this coin,” she says, and begins searching for a different one.
I begin talking. “Four Sisters, All Queens” is coming in May, I say, and will bring attention to her and her reign. Read it, I plead, and then decide. “I’ll write another book about your son, Louis,” I say, “or anything you want.” Desperation tinges my voice.
She considers this, and agrees. It’s a busy month for her, though, so she won’t be able to finish the book for a while, she says. That’s just fine with me, and I leave her with a big grin. How can she fail to love the book, in which she plays a prominent role? My life is saved.
Then I remember: In “Four Sisters, All Queens,” Blanche de Castille is a snide and jealous mother-in-law, overbearing and even cruel, who makes Marguerite’s life miserable. Blanche is going to hate it. I’m doomed.
But I remember, also, something else: “White Heart,” my novella coming out in April, shows, by telling of Blanche’s earlier years, how she got to be that hard, cold woman in “Four Sisters, All Queens.” It establishes her complexity – for aren’t we all mixtures of light and dark, naughty and nice? – and her strength as one of the greatest queens in France’s history.
That’s the book I’ll send to her! Of course, at only 18,000 words, it won’t take nearly as long for her to read – which may mean less of a reprieve for me. But I don’t realize that until I wake up.
My manfriend Jeff provides the perfect ending, however.
“You begin to feed cream-filled Bismarcks to the executioner,” he says. “On the day of your execution, just before he drops the blade of the guillotine, he drops dead of a heart attack and you’re saved.”
There’s only one problem with his scenario, I tell him: Guillotines weren’t invented in the 13th century.
He laughs, thinking this an unimportant point. But I know better. I am, after all, a writer of historical fiction. If I gave Blanche de Castille a guillotine, my readers would be the ones calling for my head.