Writing Wednesday: In the Beast’s Library

I wrote a few months ago about a writing retreat I attended, and the joint novella I worked on with a few other authors, retelling Beauty and the Beast.  Well, I recently finished the latest draft of Book Two of my Phantom trilogy, which calls for some form of celebration, I expect.  🙂  I sent it off to beta-readers for feedback, and turned back to novella revisions.

I wrote three chapters for the story, two from the point of view of a certain Good Fairy, and one from the point of the view of the Beast’s librarian.  The last excerpt I shared was from the fairy’s perspective, so today I’m sharing one from the librarian, Hugo Livre.  We set the tale in France (as traditional Beauty and the Beast tales are) so I named my librarian after Victor Hugo.  The other French writer I might have chosen to reference just wouldn’t have worked…because you can’t put a character named Gaston (Leroux) into a Beauty and the Beast story! Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: In the Beast’s Library”

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.

2018 Goals – Year-End Update

It’s been a strange year for goals–so maybe it’s fitting I’m running a day or two late from normal on this report!  I mixed together life goals and reading challenges this year, so the updates have been a little varied from usual.  And the timing has been a little strange all through.

Getting married was my biggest goal this year, accomplished on May 12th.  I put a lot of focus on the Newbery Medal reading challenge, and completed that at the end of August, so I already reported on that in my last update.

My second reading challenge was (for the third year in a row) to try to read more books with minority hero(ines).  Well, I’m still getting used to reading while married (totally different daily routine!) and I frankly didn’t think about this goal in the last three months.  So, not surprisingly, I’m sneaking in one fantasy re-read but otherwise, no progress here.  With the usual rather sad observation that it’s not easy to stumble accidentally into minority-led books–which says rather a lot.

  1. North of Happy by Adi Alsaid (Mexican)
  2. Amos Fortune: Free Man by Elizabeth Yates (African-American)
  3. Gay-Neck: The Story of a Pigeon by Dhan Gopal Mukerji (Indian)
  4. Shadow of a Bull by Maia Wojciechowska (Spanish)
  5. Waterless Mountain by Laura Adams Armer (Navajo)
  6. Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly (Japanese and Filipino)
  7. Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark (Incan)
  8. Street Magic by Tamora Pierce (vaguely Arab, in a fantasy world)

On writing goals, I wanted to write three short stories, which I finished by September.  On my last update I was still working on the first book of my Phantom trilogy.  I’m very happy to report that’s completed–at least barring any tweaks required based on revising the later books.  But that should be minor at most!

I also intended to get the second installment of the trilogy to beta-readers by the end of the year.  Well, it’s January 2nd and I’m still working on it.  But the end is actually in sight, and I’m hoping to get it off by mid-January, so only about two weeks behind the original goal.  And honestly, that’s better than I expected most of the time, so we’ll call that good!

So, not quite a perfect score on reaching all my goals–but I had more ambitious, more complicated goals than usual, and 2018 was one of the most life-altering years I’ve ever had–so I’m going to feel good about how it all turned out.

Did you have reading or other goals for the year?  How did they turn out for you?

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”

Writing Wednesday: As the Days Go By

I spent a couple of hours writing this past Sunday morning, more concentrated time than I can usually spend.  Most of it went to trying to nail down my timeline for Book Two of my Phantom trilogy.  I’m usually comfortable enough with vagueness–setting scenes in early April, a Thursday in June, the end of July and so on.  But the Phantom threw a wrench (or a lasso?) in that idea.

Throughout this book, Meg and Erik are both counting from the time Christine left.  Meg goes about it fairly reasonably, and is soon remarking on how many weeks or months it’s been, which allows for some vagueness.  Erik, however, is more intense than that.  So I spent a morning going through each of his scenes to insert a remark on how many days (and hours) it’s been since Christine left.  Which meant I had to actually know exactly which date each scene is happening on.  Happily, it’s very easy to find a calendar of 1881.  It’s a little more brain-scrambling trying to get all the numbers lined up and make sure all references are consistent.  But I think I got it–and I really like it as a character tell for him.

Here’s an excerpt where I put in Erik’s count.  I swear he’s actually getting less angsty by this point, though it may not be super evident from this particular excerpt–set on Sunday, June 5th, 1881, at about 4 in the morning.

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The special performance was going to be so…far from what it could have been, if his own opera had gone differently.  If she was still here, launched on the career only he could have given her.  Continue reading “Writing Wednesday: As the Days Go By”

Writing Wednesday: Layers

My Phantom trilogy has more layers and more things I’m trying to do than anything I’ve written before.  A lot of the work of revising is to make sure all those layers are there.  Or, to put it with another metaphor, to make sure each of many, many threads is woven through in the right places with the right prominence.

So it’s nice when I can work a lot of things into a small space–because there’s plenty to get in here.  I made edits to the scene below, adding layers (or weaving in more threads).  Most of this was slipped into a conversation that was already in the previous draft–but I managed to add a musician reference for Erik, have Meg observe it, explore why Erik is haunting the Opera, give Meg data on same, add a music metaphor for Meg the ballet dancer, and throw in a clarification on just how rich Erik is–all while the main purpose of the larger scene is actually what Erik is going to do about the policeman hunting him, something that’s starting to nudge him out of his apathy.

Revisions are complicated. 🙂

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Erik drummed his fingertips against the stage, each one tapping independently as though he was following a rhythm too complex for me to decipher.  A pipe organ—Christine had mentioned a pipe organ and that’s what this was like, like a musician’s hand on keys.

So busy watching his hand, I almost missed his words, when he said, voice quiet, “Don’t you think it’s an awful thing, a man terrifying an Opera Company with hauntings?”

Maybe it was strange to say, but I never had.  I lived among the people he was frightening, and yet never disliked him for doing it.  Maybe I was too used to it.  Or maybe he had always drawn just the right line.  “They’re not actually that frightened,” I said.  “I think they enjoy—”

“Of course they’re frightened,” he said sharply, going as stiff and tense as he’d been when he first stepped out.  “They have to be, that’s the point.”

Talking to Erik was like a very complicated dance, one where you never knew which board in the floor was going to drop out from under you.  It kept things lively.  I made a tactical retreat, a temps levé backwards.  “Yes, of course.”  A meaningless phrase, then a jump to a new topic.  “And really, it’s Monsieur Andre’s problem if he doesn’t appreciate the valuable services of a theatre ghost.  All things considered, you’re probably a bargain.”

He turned his head to look at me this time, eyes widening in surprise.  “Do you know how much they’re paying me?”

More each month than I was likely to earn my entire career—but that wasn’t what mattered, and my half-joking comment had set me off on a sudden new idea.  I sat up straighter.  “No, wait, maybe that’s the answer!”

But you’ll have to read the book to find out the answer 🙂