Writing Wednesday: Notre Dame Cathedral

I and many, many people were rocked this week by the fire that broke out at Notre Dame Cathedral Monday night.  I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled series of posts on recent short stories to share how Notre Dame Cathedral has figured in my writing, which points in many ways to my feelings about the cathedral.  A beautiful architectural treasure, it’s also a touchpoint with history.  I visited the cathedral in 2012 and 2016, and characters in my Phantom trilogy visited in 1881.  The ability to visit the same place that was standing centuries ago is breathtaking.

More than that, Notre Dame is a constant.  I’m so relieved that the most recent news suggests Monday’s fire marks a new chapter in Notre Dame’s long but continuing story.  For a few hours, it looked like it could be the end of the story, and I found it impossible to imagine a world without Notre Dame Cathedral by the Seine.

Which is exactly how it appears in my Phantom trilogy as well–Meg in particular views it as a reliable source of constancy.  Outside of the Opera Garnier (which is the setting for probably 90% of the trilogy), Notre Dame is the number one setting, woven into some of the most meaningful scenes, and a symbol of stability in an unstable world.  Some passages were seeming painfully ironic on Monday–now, perhaps, they’re just a little more poignant?

Here are a few Notre Dame passages from my novels.

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In Book One, Meg believes she may have to leave Paris soon, and looks for some comfort in the face of those worries.

I kept walking forward because it was the easiest direction, gazing into the distance without paying attention to the view.  I had been staring at Notre Dame’s towers for at least a block before I properly realized it.

I could go there.  I didn’t know anywhere more serene, stable and unmoving than Notre Dame Cathedral.  Where better to go when my world had fallen out of balance?  And it couldn’t be anything worse than the last visit for now.  Beignets and booksellers’ stalls were fleeting, the Opera Garnier might close its doors to me, but I could always go back to Notre Dame.  Maybe not soon, not if we moved away, but Notre Dame would never be gone.  I’d be back someday.

Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: Notre Dame Cathedral”

Writing Wednesday: Research in Novels

In doing research for my Phantom trilogy, I’ve gone down some interesting trails trying to get information on a specific detail, like whether a Paris police officer would have a six-shot gun (yes), whether the catacombs are actually under the Opera Garnier (no, but I’m putting them there anyway) and where Meg’s home village ought to be (near Toulouse).  Bigger topics require more intensive research though, and I’ve read entire books on classical music, on 19th-century Parisians’ attitudes towards darkness and towards eccentricity, and on ballet.

The single most helpful book, however, has actually been a novel.   It’s been remarkably difficult to find substantive information about the ballet program at the Opera Garnier in the 1880s.  A lot of my information about the Opera Garnier itself has come from forwards in different copies of the Phantom of the Opera!

But I did have one wonderful find with regard to what life might actually have been like for Meg: Marie, Dancing by Carolyn Meyer, about the model for Degas’ famous statue, “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.”  Marie was a dancer at the Opera Garnier at exactly the same time as Meg, and the novel paints a more vivid and more substantive picture than any book or essay I’ve managed to find.  I read it some six years ago, then read it again just in the last year, and it was incredibly helpful.  Along with a general picture, she has details like how much money the dancers earned, which nights performances were held on, and the schedule for practice and rehearsals.  Also, it’s just a good book!

Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: Research in Novels”

Writing Wednesday: The Phantom and Madame Giry

Madame Giry is one character who had a big influence on my Phantom retelling.  In most versions, including mine, she knows a little more than most about the Phantom, and may have some level of sympathy for him.  That was part of what led me to wonder about the story told from the point of view of her daughter Meg.

After that initial spark, though, Madame Giry became a supporting character in my actual story–although I think a powerful presence.  What I don’t actually have much of is Madame Giry and the Phantom together.  If I ever write a fourth book, one reason will be because I’m curious to explore the two of them.

But they do have a scene together near the beginning of Book Two that is one of my favorites.  The Phantom has taken a first tentative step towards a friendship with Meg, and Madame Giry comes into Box Five to make sure he fully understands that he’d better not step out of line.  Here’s just a bit of it. Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: The Phantom and Madame Giry”

Writing Wednesday: Charles Garnier at the Opera

Charles Garnier by Nadar - Leniaud 2003 p142.jpgCharles Garnier plays a funny role in my Phantom novel–a character who is and isn’t there.  I wanted him in it as a kind of shadow, a part of the Opera he built, almost literally.  Erik reads his book on the construction of the Opera–Meg sees his portrait in two places in the Opera–Erik references him with respect–and of course, the building is called the Opera Garnier throughout my trilogy, an actual choice since it could have been the Opera de Paris (or the Palais Garnier, or the Salle des Capucines) and still been correct usage.  But I wanted that Garnier acknowledgment.

Garnier is nearly the only historical figure in my novel.  The only other one is Degas, and he’s only referenced very slightly by comparison (although the Phantom does have one of his paintings on his wall!)

Somewhere I picked up a kind of fondness for Garnier, maybe from Susan Kay’s novel where he’s a more prominent character, or from visiting the Opera Garnier itself.  Or maybe because of one story I heard about Garnier that I just love.  While the Opera was under construction, Empress Eugenie, the wife of Napoleon III, was not wild about Garnier’s design.  She asked him what style the architecture was and, being a clever man, Garnier responded, “The Napoleon III style, of course!”

So he’s in here, a little, for those reasons–but also for what I can say about the Phantom through him.  And that mostly comes out in one very brief flashback.  Garnier may be in the rest of the trilogy just for the sake of this moment, because I love the image of Charles Garnier and the Phantom of the Opera sitting on the edge of the stage the night before the Opera opens, drinking champagne to their masterpiece.  And I will trust that the ghost of Garnier won’t mind me giving a little credit to the fictional Phantom!

Here’s my favorite bit of the flashback, as the Phantom reflects on their relationship and his role.

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Finally, looking at the champagne bubbles and not at Garnier’s shadowed face, he had said, “Please don’t tell them about me.”

“Of course not.”

That was all.  No more than that.  It was enough, because unspoken between the words and filling the empty auditorium was the tacit understanding that had always existed between them.  There had never been anyone else who understood their mutual obsession for this building, no one else who loved it as they did.  He had liked to think of it as similar to two men in love with the same woman, each uniquely able to understand the feelings of the other.

Of course, when that situation actually came about, it had been utterly different.  So much for metaphor.

Garnier had a career, a family, a public face, and had gone on to design other buildings, explore other landscapes.  Erik was the shadow he left behind to watch over his masterpiece.

Writing Wednesday: Historical Verification

I had a very satisfying moment at my writing group some while back.  I brought in a scene from my Phantom trilogy that mentioned the electric lights on the Avenue de l’Opera, and someone at the table asked if they would have had electric lights so early.

And I was ready for that–because my novel is set in 1881, and my research had told me that electric lights were put onto the Avenue de l’Opera in 1878.  So I felt quite good about having that answer!

But then the question kept coming up.  Multiple early readers for the first book asked the same question.  And I thought–well, I knew I had it right, but that was only so much use if readers weren’t going to know it.  So I made a little edit to the excerpt below, for the readers who ask the question when I’m not there to answer it!

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Photo I had to take of the lights on the Avenue de l’Opera when I visited Paris.

We watched together as the sun dipped below the horizon and the shadows deepened.  For a little while, the city was bathed in a soft twilight.  Then the electric lights down the length of the Avenue de l’Opera flared into bright, vivid life, a line of light unrolling at our feet, stretching out towards the Seine.  Electric lights had been shining on the Avenue for three years now, since the Paris Exposition in 1878, but they still seemed magical.

I smiled, clasping my hands around my knees.  “It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”

“If you like that sort of thing.”  Erik’s voice wasn’t irritated exactly, but it was cold.  I snuck a glance at him, couldn’t read anything from his face in the shadows.  He must have seen the query in my glance though, because he shrugged and said, “I like candles.  Gas lamps are all right too.  Electric lights are so…harsh.  An attack on the darkness.”

Writing Wednesday: Police Plots

I wrote recently about my research into the Paris police of the 1880s.  I’m working on that strand of my novel right now, building up the role of Commissaire Mifroid.  He’s actually one of my point of view characters, in a way.  There are times when I want the reader to know something that Meg and the Phantom do not, so I included excerpts from Mifroid’s notebook.

Despite having that in place, I still didn’t have him prominent enough throughout the second book in earlier drafts, and didn’t have enough detail on his investigation.  So today’s excerpt is an excerpt 😉 from Mifroid’s notebook–the first one that appears in the novel, in fact, which I have greatly expanded since previous versions.

Excerpt from the Private Notebook of Jean Mifroid, Commissaire of Police
10 Mar 1881

Continuing investigation into disappearance of Philippe de Chagny, Raoul de Chagny, Christine Daaé.  Second interview of de Chagny housekeeper on 9 Mar, confessed to seeing RdC and CD on morning of 2 Mar.  Last known sighting of RdC and CD.  Expressed plans to leave country, consistent with letter received by M. Giry.  Still tracing leads re: travel, current whereabouts.

Housekeeper provided no further info re: PdC.  No additional sightings after evening of 1 Mar, at Opera Garnier.  If abducted, no ransom.  Murder?

Suspects:

RdC – Motive: inheritance?  Interference with proposed marriage to CD?  Opportunity: Last seen by myself seeking PdC at Opera, emotional state extreme at time.  Capability: Possible, with weapon.

CD – Motive: Same as RdC.  Opportunity: Also at Opera at time of PdC disappearance.  Capability: Slight physical strength, unknown ability with weapons.

Cloaked man seen with PdC on stage – so-called Opera Ghost? – Motive: Unknown.  Opportunity: Likely.  Capability: Unknown.

Also continuing investigation into fallen chandelier.  Evidence points to sabotage.  Connection between sabotage and disappearance of PdC?  Connection to long-standing legend of Opera Ghost?

Writing Wednesday: French Rabbit Holes

Sometimes revisions require research, and mine has tumbled me down a few rabbit holes recently.  Trying to research different areas of France doesn’t sound complicated, does it?  I just wanted to place the village Meg is from, an almost throw-away line in a scene where she’s on the train heading to Leclair.  It got complicated.

I knew the village was in the south of France because…it just is, always has been.  Some things just are, in stories.  I read a somewhat horrifying novel about the Nazi occupation of France a while back and decided on the spot that I was going to make sure Meg’s village was not in the worst of the occupied zone–not that it really matters, since my story is set 60 years before World War II.  But it could matter to my characters’ children.  Anyway, call that a whim, and it was easy to find out where those borders were.  Conveniently it was the northern half that was occupied the longest–so far, so good.

I also knew it was an agricultural economy in the village, which might have happened because I read so many L. M. Montgomery books about farming villages.  So I figured, a little research on what bits of southern France are dominated by agriculture.  So I did some Googling, I found a map that suggested the area around Toulouse was probably about right.  So now I just want to find some information on that area.  District.  Province.  State.  Whatever it’s called.  And…rabbit hole. Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: French Rabbit Holes”