Joseph’s Lair

    Le Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers captured my imagination the moment I laid eyes on it back in my lair half-way around the world. It haunted me so much that I had to come and see it with my own eyes. I had to get as close as I could to it…

    Dating back to the thirteenth century, this stronghold had gone back and forth between England and France during medieval times. It was virtually destroyed in the French Revolution.  In 1809, Francois Hennecart bought the property. From him, it passed to the Baron Joseph Lejeune (Joseph! However, my fictional Joseph’s name originated much farther back. Theoretically, he could have passed himself off as this Baron). In 1932, a fire gutted the château. It was never restored.

    As it stands now, the Mothe-Chandeniers is a heartbreakingly gorgeous relic of the past. Its only inhabitants now are trees and undergrowth and sundry vermin as nature re-stakes its claim on the property. In my novel, Progenie, Joseph lays claim to it still.

    In the novel, this edifice retains its abandoned elegance as an inter-dimensional being inhabits planes not readily perceived by the human eye. Walking within the scorched stone of this château, the more perceptive human can catch a glimpse from the corner of his eye the nooks and crannies along the added dimensions. Mathematicians and physicists can find these spaces with numbers and calculations using five-dimensional geometry. However, beings whose physical construct comprises dark matter (which exists across six dimensions) and whose life force is animated by dark energy can move in and out of the planes seamlessly.

    Visiting the ruin

    Upon arriving at my hotel in Raslay, I ask the owner about this magical château and she agrees it is a beautiful ruin but the owners, she says, are crazy and have been known to pull a shotgun on trespassers. “Be careful, “ she admonishes.  And, yes, I agree I should take care, but I have travelled four thousand miles by plane, train, and automobile to see the lair that I have imagined for my forlorn villain, Joseph. I will risk my safety as much as I dare to catch a glimpse of the Château de la Mothe-Chandeniers.

     

    The next day, I take the back roads from my hotel. I hope to drive by the field of rapeseed where my heroine, Zen (In my 2nd novel, Unto the Mother), begins her journey to find Joseph who has done grievous harm to her and her family. I had only imagined its existence but now, I am elated to see that the field actually exists, nearly the way I imagined it.

    Expecting the sight of the château’s black spires to herald its presence behind the stand of trees, I drive by the castle, never seeing it. It is well hidden from view of the road. I turn back and notice a private drive with a ‘No Trespassing’ sign.  I hold my breath and turn onto the gravel road.

    I still do not find the castle.  Again, I turn around and, driving back, I see it—not the château but the little chapel to the side of it.

     


    I stop the car and I get out to take pictures.  As I am about to get back in the car, I see the Castle! Beyond the trees and the furry tips of tall grasses, I see this lonely abandoned château, the weathered stone of its walls falling away. Leafy inhabitants peer out of the window and wave in the passing breeze. I am so close but I am not there yet.

    I drive onto the main road, and just as if it were nestled on another plane, I glimpse it from the corner of my eye. The black spires. The wrought iron dome. The timeworn tower with crucifixes carved into the crenelles.

    I park and cross the street to the grass covered bridge. It is crisscrossed with tape. Beyond the barrier is a sign: “Danger”

    Stepping over the tape, I walk past the sign. I walk as close as I dare, moving towards Joseph’s Lair…

    For more pictures.

    My Pinterest board

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    Moulin de Raslay

    Getting here from Paris was about as easy as anything could be. When I get to Gare Montparnasse, a mere five minutes walk from my apartment, I have to meander around a congregate of unresponsive travelers who stand evenly spaced–more or less– facing the same direction. I make my way to the departure board to find the platform for the train to Tours. France.  I see the departure but not the platform. At the information desk, a nice gentleman explains that the platforms don’t appear until twenty minutes before the train is scheduled to depart.

    Oh.

    So, I take my place among the zombies and face the big black and white departure board. The letters and numbers spin as the time and platform information is updated.  It will be ten minutes before I re-animate and join the herd moving towards platform six.

    After an hour and a half on the train, I arrive in Tours and pick up my adorable five-speed (trains don’t go to these tiny hamlets). I punch in the addy for my hotel in Moulin de Raslay and I am led through alternately quaint, stark and downright gorgeous countrysides. I have to resist the urge to stop my car on the edge of a field of rapeseed. Here the sun pours down in a sheen of honeyed light,  drenching the flower blossoms and the golden leaf oak tree which stands watch over them. The scene is a miracle of colors that at once evoke warmth and sweet taste on the tongue.

    The roads grow narrowerer and twistier until I arrived at my destination, a quaint farm house sitting on the edge of a stream.  I am greeted by honking geese. The chickens ignore me as they scratch the dirt for snacks. Two large dogs bark furiously and charge me as the hotel owner panics. But I remain calm. I stop in my tracks.  One of the dogs run to me, circles then licks my hand.

    Ew!

    …And awww!

    So… about this place. I doubt I will use it in my current series, but as charming and as beautiful as it is, this little B&B has all the markings of a horror movie or, perhaps a short story.  Note, for instance, the sinister window, facing the parking area. Could there be someone in the darkness watching me approach…

    This place is so quiet and secluded, no one would hear me scream…

    And the dark barn–oh my! The owner invites me to see freshly hatched ducklings– a great ploy, I think to myself, if they were going to go ‘Hostel’ on me.  I follow half because I am fairly sure these are good people and partly because I enjoy giving reign to my imagination. The stories I could make up about that barn….

    Oh, and the duckling is too cute.

    To tell the truth, this place is charming and quiet and full of light. The weather is nice, so I sit a the table next to the stream and I write and smoke cigars and drink green tea that the owner has so kindly offered me.

    It’s so wonderful here I can help thinking I would like to spend an entire vacation here. I wonder if my husband would like it at all…

    I think, also, this secluded gem has writers’ retreat written all over it. But who would travel all this way to the hamlets of France? I believe that I would again if only to enjoy the solitude and beauty and just write.

    Oh, I did ask about the abandoned castle, the Chateau de la Mothe-Chandaniers–my whole reason for coming here–and learned that the owners of that property are ‘crazy’ and are known to have pulled a shotgun on trespassers. So if you don’t hear from me in the next couple of days, I probably got caught going someplace I oughtn’t to have gone…

    Talk to you later… I hope.

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    Versailles

     

    Imagine:

    It is Paris. The stakes are high. This is your last chance to make contact with the one person who can lead you to the fabled Cour d’Honneur. He is moments from abandoning the meeting place, but your map and instructions are missing vital details. Not only that, it is riddled with misdirection.

    There only one thing to do; contact home base.  The operator therewill direct you to a rendezvous with the lead agent in Paris.  They get eyes on your contact. He is about to board the train. Your last chance will be gone forever.

    You run through the streets of Paris. Crossing a busy intersection, you risk life and limb against crazed Parisian drivers. You follow the lead agent down the steps into a dark corridor and he escorts you to the platform.  Then you spot him. Your contact.  Just in the nick of time, you board the train and take the seat next to him and you are off on a journey you will never forget.

    * * *

    That is my reality—if I try to build a work of fiction around it. The truth is, though I give myself an hour to make a twenty minute trip across town to meet my tour to Versailles I become hopelessly and embarrassingly lost. Thank God for the patience and care of the folks at Fat Tire tours. I call the office and the operator gives me directions, staying on the line with me and the tour guide as she tries to bring us together. I make it to the office where the manager contacts the guide.

    We have less than five minutes to get to the train station or the group would have to leave without me.  We take off at a brisk clip.  The last few blocks we run. Egregiously jaywalking, we cross a busy street just in time for the manager to hand me off to the tour guide.

    I am too out of breath to say thank you.  There is no time anyway. The guide helps me on the train and when I can speak, we make small talk until I feel completely settled and a part of the group.

    I am so embarrassed to tell you all of this. No doubt, those who are close to me are shaking their heads at yet another fine mess I had gotten myself into. But I am grateful that I am traveling alone and not dragging anyone else into the foibles of my jet-lagged incompetence.

    It is Sunday. The train to Versailles is crowded.  I end up sitting with a guy from India and another from Seattle (not a part of our tour).  Like a good writer, I eavesdrop on their conversation.  I make mental notes which I plan to write down later.

    Arriving in Versailles, our group diverges from the crowd heading directly to the palace. We take the back streets to a square with a gorgeous cathedral.  Tour members, me included, stand around taking pictures while our guide unlocks the storage where Fat Tire keep their stash of bikes for these tours.

    I think that is cool. Having done other tours with this company in Giverny and the Loire valley, it dawns on me how organized Fat Tire is—right down to having an operator on hand to direct idiots like me who get lost or—I dare not call her an idiot—the lady who got separated from our tour. The operator was able to inform the guide about the location of missing party. All was right again.

    The guide is informative and entertaining. I half expect a regurgitation of what I had learned from the TV series Versailles (Great show. You should check it out on Netflix) but we learn how all of the excesses spent by Louis XIV were enjoyed by his son Louis XV only for Louis the XVI to pay for it with his head during the French Revolution.

    We visit Le Petit Trianon—my favorite—where Marie Antoinette, feeling at odds with the court created her own ‘little’ sanctuary.  She ordered that the symmetrical French style garden be replaced by the more ‘natural’ English style. The grounds of the Petit Trianon were vast and encompassed a village the queen had built.  There she could go about dressed as a dairy maid and milk cows (I’m writing this from memory. So I may be fudging some of the facts. Look it up if you are curious).  She paid actors from a ‘real’ local village to come to her fake one to make her fantasy complete. I guess this is what is possible if you have enough money and no holodeck, dating sim or second earth…

    We ride our bikes and picnic on the great mall in view of the Grand Palace. Tour members go to chat with each other. I met a nice family from Atlanta. The mom, coincidentally, is originally from Houston.  The daughter is studying abroad in Florence. I tell them that I am a writer (It’s weird and exhilarating to call myself that!).  I tell them about my first book, The First Daughter, which they make a note of as well as my plume de nom, Mack Little.

    By this time, I have drunk two glasses (plastic cups) of wine and am not able to properly eavesdrop on the surrounding tour.  And the group from Australia is too far away from me to entertain them with my drunken Australian accent which I manage to do on every one of these tours.  I guess that is probably for the best.

    After the picnic, our guide takes us to the gates of Versailles. We skip the long lines and, once inside, he gives us our final instructions and a train ticket back. Then, he releases us on our own recognizances. Seeing the crowds, I am reluctant to do this final leg of the tour. But I came all this way, I feel I should do it.

    Gawd! It is so crowded. I do not linger to bask in the gloriousness of the Palace. Rather, I rush through, taking very few pictures.  I head back to the train and get back to my apartment to decompress and get ready for my trip to the Anjou region of France.

    Will any of this be useful for the books I am writing? Perhaps.  I asked the guide what he thought of the story about Louis XIV’s wife giving birth to a baby fathered by a black dwarf which she kept as a companion.  He clearly thought it was bunk. However, there was a female raised in a convent who was born at the same time that Marie Therese gave birth. The baby’s name was Louise Marie Therese. She became the black nun of Moret.  Louis the XV did in some ways acknowledge her.  For me, this illegitimate child (or the rumor thereof) is irresistible as a subject in some future work.

    Traveling

    I guess I need not tell you what claustrophobia is. Everyone knows that fear of being locked up in closed off spaces or they know of someone who has that fear.  Most people who know me are aware of my claustrophobia. It is not just closed off spaces but tight crowds and sometimes even traffic jams can give me grave anxiety. More than the physical situation, I react to the feeling of being trapped, having my freedom from moving one place to another restricted the same way I would react to being in a tight spot. To be cut off from my freedom, from the world that I am used to is my fear and it is sometimes my nightmare.

    An airplane neatly fits the parameters of a closed of panic-inducing place. And I must admit, when people are boarding, I have a distinct urge to fight crawl or climb my way out.  This is why I get the window seat. I can take a few deep breaths and look outside, and I am usually okay until take off.  Once we are in the air with metal sealed off careening tens of thousands of feet above the earth through a deadly cold and thin atmosphere, I am not bothered at all. Go figure.

    Landing four thousand miles away gives rise to a similar sort of anxiety as claustrophobia.  I don’t know if this phobia, this anxiousness has a name.  It is this feeling of being so far from home with no way to get back. When the length of my stay seems interminable and the gulf so wide from me and my loved ones I may never get back to them.  I guess some would call it homesickness.  I know homesick but this feels different. I feel unsettled. Adrift. Not exactly longing for home but feeling a distance from it.  I feel like this a for a couple of days, like my soul has come unbound and the world I have left behind might as well be in another universe or dimension.

    So, for the first day, I struggle through the foreignness. I  figure out my new surroundings usually by getting things wrong. I realize it’s part of the process of my becoming acclimated. The most important thing is not to panic. Do not get angry or frustrated. Just stay dogged and steady and fight the fatigue until there a time and place to rest.

    While it’s a good idea to stay up the first night in Paris in order to get on a regular schedule, I am so tired, physically and mentally, that I take an ambien and go to bed at 6 pm. Of course, I wake up at 1 am.  I tell myself bedtime stories about Zen and Emmett* falling in and out of love or about demons wreaking havoc with the living. I should be taking notes about these characters from my books but I let them lull me into a deep sleep instead.

    Luckily, the next day, I awake in time for my trip to Versailles.

    *Emmett and Zen are the main characters in my Scions of Darkness series

    New Orleans

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    Is there any place so mysterious or provocative as New Orleans?  A place where les bon temps roll right alongside the menace of dark spirits both dead and alive. A place so steeped in history and so culturally faceted that when I feel inclined to wander, I find myself headed east towards it. No wonder the characters in my novels gravitate there as well.

    On one of my trips to the Big Easy, I visited an actual Voodoo Temple. Coming from a small rural town in Georgia, raised in the Church of God and,  later, the Southern Baptist religions, I learned that fooling with dark magic would damn my soul. And though Voodoo was viewed as a false religion, we all had a healthy respect for its power over us. Those things remained ingrained even as I learned more about the religion and assumed an intellectual disregard for superstition. So when I stepped inside of the Temple, I was filled with awe, curiosity and the heebie-jeebies. It was wonderful and I knew I had to write about this place.

    Thus inspired, I created a fictional Voodoo Temple filled with the details I came across in my real-life exploration. My temple is run by a Voodoo Priestess called Kayin Medeaux. It figures rather prominently in the narrative of The First Daughter.

    Now, my husband and I are heading back to New Orleans to celebrate our 22nd anniversary. And as I work on my second novel, I’m wondering if my characters will find a reason to return there.  I hope so

    Paris

    The opening scene of The First Daughter takes place in Paris in a fictional hotel called the Colombe d’Or. However, other locations mentioned are not made up. I found some spots in Paris that were too provocative not to write about. For example, near the market at Rue Cler is a small side street called Rue Amelie, where you can find the crepe café and a small boutique selling fascinators, visited by a couple of my characters.

    I had visited this particular area in 2015 and enjoyed a quite fantastic ham and (Gruyère) cheese crepe at Creperie Le Crepuscule. As I sat in the tiny, tiny space alongside locals, a small chapel-shaped structure directly across the street captured my imagination. Though I am still not certain what is housed in it, in my book, it became the location of a catalyzing event in The First Daughter.

    I am returning to Paris in a couple of days to explore some locations for the novel that I am currently writing.  After all, Paris is my favorite city. And since I go there as often as I can, I will be collecting some of the magic and the mystery hidden in little known Parisian enclaves. Stay tuned for my travel logs exploring locations that could find their way into my stories.