Last weeks of a cold spring

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I can’t believe it is already midway through the first week of June. Bring on summer (because this spring has been too cold for my liking). As always, May was a packed month in my home. Both of my sons’ birthdays are in May (on the 7th and 18th), and I spend much of the month shopping, preparing, celebrating, and cleaning. Now I have a four year old who can’t wait for September so he can start school and a two year old who is preparing for life as a free-climber if the number of times I’ve pulled him off the third shelf of the bookcase is any indication.

We, of course, got them book-related presents. For the eldest, we made a trip to our local library and signed him up for his own library card. Thrilled doesn’t begin to describe his reaction. He proudly chose a book to take out: Seasons by Anne Crausaz, an old favourite.

For the youngest, we bought Jane Eyre: A Counting Primer from the wonderful BabyLit series by Jennifer Adams and Alison Oliver. We already own several of these books and he is happy to keep practicing his numbers with a new story.

On top of celebrating the boys’ birthdays, I had some exciting book-related moments on Twitter. I was retweeted by Irvine Welsh after I mentioned that I was rereading Trainspotting in preparation for a screening of the movie and discussion with Welsh with TIFF’s Books on Film series. I was giddy with amazement as I was momentarily flung into a wider audience; I picked up three new followers as a result of contact cool.

The very next day, I am astounded to share, I was mentioned in a tweet by none other than Sarah Dunant. I had been struggling with my novel (that’s another post) and tweeted that I was going to reread Blood & Beauty to inspire and improve my writing. And she gave me a shout out as she worked on finishing the sequel to that novel. I still get a smile on my face when I think about it.

I finished May with a meeting of my book club to discuss The Lobster Kings by Alexi Zentner. While not many of us could attend this month, we had a good conversation about the use of art in the story. I certainly enjoyed this book more than last month’s selection (see here for a refresher).

So while my May was very busy personally, it also set me up for a good month of reading and writing for June. I hope to share my thoughts the books that I read in May, the screening of Trainspotting, and a new idea for a story that I recently started developing. And, like last year, I’ll also be putting a summer reading list together.

BJL

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Trust issues

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I’ve been working on a scene in my book that is a pivotal moment for my main character. I’m not actually that far along in the story yet, but I really wanted to write it so I skipped ahead. The difficulty in writing the scene was the need for Rosaline to decide if she trusts someone or not, and I needed to decide if her decision is the correct one. My choice and hers could bring the story in different directions and I had to weigh the pros and cons of each. An added concern was that the choices revolved around a real life event, so the characters’ actions had to make sense for the real outcome.

On June 14, 1497, after leaving a family dinner at his mother’s home, Juan Borgia was murdered and his body dumped in the Tiber in Rome. The Pope began an investigation, but abruptly called it off after only a few days. As a result, while the family had many enemies, a rumour implicating his brother Cesare began to circulate. Juan’s murder was never solved.

Borgia

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

At this point in my story, Rosaline is close to the Borgia family, acting as Lucrezia’s confidante and friend and frequently sparing with Cesare, though they are also friends. It is a dangerous time and Rosaline needs to decide what path she wishes to follow.

While the process was difficult and I struggled to make a final choice for the plot, I really enjoyed writing it and, ultimately, I think I stayed true to Rosaline’s character and her development.

Now I have to go back and tie the sections of my story together. Knowing where the characters are going and what the fall out will be helps me weave details and clues in the previous pages. I have to admit, the hard work of putting together feels really satisfying.

BJL

la petite mort sanglante

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To help move along my writing and spark my interest again, I decided to pick up Lucrezia Borgia by John Faunce. This is his debut, and only, novel, though his bio included in the book, published in 2003, indicates that he has written television movies and works as a screenwriter in LA.

I debated about including my thoughts on this novel for re: read pages because no matter what I say, Faunce wrote a book that got published, which I have yet to do, and because I wanted to focus on writing that impressed me with its craft and, as you have probably guessed, this novel does not.

Despite my interest in the Borgia family (they play an important role in my own novel), I have had a difficult time finding a perfectly satisfying read about this notorious clan. The gossip about the potentially incestuous relationships between siblings seems to be too juicy to not play up in one way or another, and too many authors lose their place trying to weave these tidbits into their narratives. Faunce is no different.

Interjections of Greek and Latin meant to showcase Lucrezia as a unique mind instead of just a unique body feel slapped in more to show the author’s knowledge than his character’s. The moments of humour meant to bring levity to more serious situations generally fall flat. I’m also not sure what he intended by turning Cesare Borgia into a temper-tantrum throwing adult, complete with stomping feet and high pitched voice. Is this humour again? Is it meant to show that he is no better than his sister who shed tears in an attempt to avoid her first marriage? It is difficult to reconcile the Cesare of Lucrezia’s admiration and the captain of the Holy Army to this whiny child-man. But the worst offence is the treatment of sexuality.

Lucrezia is meant to be seen as a golden beauty from a very young age. Her value, according to her family, comes from her looks. It is one reason why she can be bartered in marriage three times in her life despite concerns about the trustworthiness of her family. But her sexuality and the role of incest in her family are so poorly executed that Faunce loses any credibility he may have built up with historical detail.

Lucrezia’s second husband, Alphonso, whom she loved, is beaten near to death in front of her eyes and she is nearly murdered herself. But Lucrezia, while surrounded by her attackers and cradling her husband’s head, isn’t overcome by fear and grief but by memories of their lovemaking:

“Remember me.” I called as loudly as I could to Alphonso, though I’m now certain what felt a yell was only a longing whisper. “Remember that even in Heaven no one will ever love you the way I do….Remember me,” I whispered again to my husband. “If you forget my voice, remember my body, the ways it loved you.”

Lucrezia’s odd way of experiencing trauma continues as she cleans Alphonso’s wounds. While washing blood from Alphonso’s body, she imagines Mary Magdalene giving Jesus a blow job. Yep. Nothing like blood on your hands to get you thinking about Jesus and oral sex. But Faunce isn’t finished yet. Alphonso still needs to die. In his final hours, Alphonso, who has been nursed back to life by a fiercely dedicated Lucrezia, makes love to his wife, but their post-coital rest is interrupted by Cesare, who has talked his way past guards at the door. He begs Alphonso’s forgiveness, admitting that he sent the attackers that caused his near death; however, once they are relaxed Cesare turns and attacks Alphonso himself. Lucresia attempts to defend him and is hurt in the act. In Faunce’s telling, this is a total turn-on:

Alphonso and I were naked. More blood kept flowing from my cut hands. An image formed in my mind…In my mind we seemed a strange, desperate ménage a trois. But I confess our threesome was oddly attractive to me, unbidden, nightmare daydream.

Ugh. If this passage hadn’t occurred near the end of the novel, I would have tossed the book aside completely. Faunce teases the reader with incest but never full commits his heroine. In another (more well-written) book about the siblings, Blood and Beauty, author Sarah Dunant puts the incestuous leaning fully on Cesare’s shoulders. While Faunce also hints that Cesare, in a kind of madness, is in love with his sister, passages such as the one above allow Faunce to indulge in sibling love scenes without really dirtying his main character (I won’t even get in to Lucrezia’s pleasure in remembering hearing her parents have sex in the next room).

Overall this book didn’t provide any insight into the Borgia family. It felt like a shallow interpretation dressed up with sex and Latin.

I hope I will do better.

All quoted passages from Faunce, John. Lucrezia Borgia. 2003. Three Rivers Press, New York.