Flash Fiction: The Poet and the Forest

Here’s a little flash fiction for Friday about the importance of nourishing your imagination.

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There was once a poet, who came upon an enchanted forest. The poet wandered beneath the towering trees, discovering hidden paths and flowing streams. The poet learned all the songs of the birds and the scents of the wildflowers. The forest crept into the poet’s heart, and when the poet sat down to write, words poured onto the page like summer rains.

But there was no living to be made in the forest, nor was there much to eat, so the poet went to find work in the desert, where the wind chafed the poet’s hands and stung her eyes. The heat of the sun burned away all smells and the landscape was too barren for birds. The people in the desert were harsh too. “Who are you?” they asked by way of greeting, “Are you rich yet?” They walked on and stared at the desert with despairing eyes.

At last the poet had earned enough to return to poetry. But as she tried to write by a flickering fire in the desert, she had lost all words. The desert had entered her soul, and her imagination had withered.

So the poet returned to the forest. As the branches closed overhead, her creativity returned. She had learned that imagination must be nourished, just as the body must be fed. One day she would return to the mines of the desert, but for now, she let the forest embrace her.

Leaving home

At twilight I slipped out of the convent and into the herb garden. Unlocking the gate, I strolled under the old stone arch to the fields beyond. The sky was blue violet, and a golden moon was rising over the hills. The air was sweet with the scent of the rustling grasses. Wildflowers, some blooming only for a day, shivered in the evening breeze. I walked through the fields, until the monastery and convent were only a dim silhouette behind me. I breathed in over and over, wanting to savour the scent and the taste of the countryside. The forest on the hillside was dim and silent and the tree branches were like lace against the setting sun. The meadows rolled out to the horizon, where the river glittered through banks of poplar trees. I tried to capture each part of the landscape in my mind, so that I could imagine it, wherever I might go.

– Story Excerpt “The Alchemist of Paris”

 

Like the character Elise, I grew up in the country before moving to the city. (Strange fact – I grew up next door to a convent!)

Are there places that you have left behind in your life? Do you think of them often? If you are a writer, do you incorporate those memories into your writing?

Plotting my Way across the City (from a Writer’s Perspective)

One of the most evocative books I have ever read is “The Vampire Lestat”. Anne Rice made me want to run down the Paris boulevards with Lestat and Nicholas, sit in the smoky theatres and opera houses, and descend into the catacombs with Armand. Frankly, it even made me want to be a vampire, had the occasion presented itself.

The Conciergerie today

The Conciergerie today

The lush late eighteenth-century Paris described in “The Vampire Lestat” is before the modernisation plans of Haussmann, when many of the landmarks of modern Paris were built. The Paris of today is not quite the same Paris that Lestat and Armand roamed, but through Anne Rice’s brilliant descriptions and emotional writing, the city came alive.

Creating historical fiction is always a feat of imagination, with some research thrown in. The settings must fit the plot and be filled out from the imagination of the author. Sometimes an understanding of the lives and times of people of the era is enough. Other times, more detailed knowledge of geography is needed.

When my character Elise arrives in Paris in 1820 to work as a maid for the secretive Albert Price, in “The Alchemist of Paris”, she soon finds herself being sent all over Paris on mysterious errands to obtain items for Price’s experiments.

Price’s house is in Le Marais. As the plot progressed, I began to wonder, was it actually possible for Elise to go to all the places I wanted her to go?

The beginnings of my research

The beginnings of my research

I soon learned that people did not often travel between districts in Paris in the past, as we are accustomed to now. But as Elise is a servant, she would have been one of the many maids and workers walking unnoticed through the streets. As I planned out the story, Elise’s errands took her to:

  • A strange shop on the Île de la Cité
  • The house of a scientist and collector of Egyptian antiquities in Saint-Germain des Prés
  • A fancy store near the Pont au Change.
  • The side streets of Le Marais.
  • A forge by the river.

Last year, I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in Paris. I began to build up Elise’s world, making sure she could go on foot to the places she was meant to be.

I started each day from Le Marais walking: through the Place des Vosges toward the Seine; then across the Île St-Louis and the Île de la Cité; then on to Saint-Germain des Prés. Looping back to Le Marais each time, the geography of the story became possible.

Each walk revealed more locations and inspired more ideas. The older buildings could be included in the descriptions. The house in Saint-Germain des Prés was soon based on the Delacroix Museum.

When the plot took the characters further afield to the Tulieries Gardens or a cemetery on the edge of the city, I made sure they had a carriage at their disposal.

She might have been tired, but Elise could do what I made her do. After all, working for an alchemist isn’t easy.

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Do you use maps when you plot your stories? Have you ever placed your characters in an impossible location?

“The Alchemist of Paris” is released on July 14, 2016. There are some Advanced Review Copies (PDF or .mobi) available through Choosy Bookworm along with some other great historical fiction reads! 

Cover Reveal – The Alchemist of Paris

 

Cover design by adipixdesign.com

Cover design by adipixdesign.com

I am very excited to reveal the cover design of ‘The Alchemist of Paris’, created by the wonderful Adriana Hanganu of adipixdesign.com.

‘The Alchemist of Paris’ is a gothic mystery set in modern day and 1820s Paris.

A young woman searches for a forgotten mansion in the heart of modern Paris. The only clue to its location lies in an extraordinary nineteenth century diary, which reveals a tale of deceit, magic, betrayal and immortal love.

More to come in the coming weeks!

Flash Fiction – Social Media Anxiety

A sweet tale for this Valentine Day’s Month.

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Tim wants to be your friend.

Natasha sat before her computer. Sunlight peeked through the morning clouds outside her window. She sipped her coffee and stared at the screen.

Tim was the cute boy she had met at the party the night before, whose smile made her heart soar and whose shy eyes made her swoon.

Did Tim really want to be her friend?

HER friend?

Her FRIEND?

Did he WANT to be her friend?

Did he want to be MORE than friends?

Natasha tucked her hair behind her ears nervously. It was only a Facebook friend request, for crying out loud. How could such simple words cause such social anxiety?

Okay. Tim wants to be my friend. So what should I do?

I don’t want to accept straightaway or he’ll know I like him.

But I don’t want to wait because he’ll think I thought about him.

I’ve got to be cool, Natasha decided.

She hit accept, pulling her finger away as if the laptop was on fire.

She rested her head in her hands. It probably meant nothing. He just wanted to be Facebook friends. It wasn’t like it was the start of something.

*  *   *   *   *

Tim sat in a cafe across town. Should he have sent Natasha the friend request so soon? He only met her the night before. Maybe he shouldn’t have sent it at all.

What would he do if she ignored him?

He shouldn’t have done it. He was an idiot. He was always an idiot.

A message appeared.

Natasha wants to be your friend.

Tim broke into a wide grin.

The day suddenly seemed brighter.

© 2016 M. C. Dulac

Flash fiction logo

Two Sentence Fiction

Two sentence stories exploring the pain of the writerly life.

Two sentence

Sally had a file full of articles on blogging, a date planner with a blog schedule, a master to-do list, a top priority to-do list, a micro to-do list, a thumbnail to-do list and a motivational poster above her desk. But the only way she was going to get any real work done, was to sit down and write.

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After he began, editing his novel, Bill discovered, he had a tendency, to overuse, commas. With his neighbours bellowing Bill took out all the commas to unfortunate effect.

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Richard refused to learn the rules of writing. Ignoring the warnings about unclear antecedent phrases, when he came home to his cat, he started meowing.

 

© 2016 M. C. Dulac

City of Signs – Historical Fiction Tips

“My master, Monsieur Price, has asked me to go to the sign of the Three Hands again, although I dislike the place. He buys powders for his experiments there.”

– Elise reflects on her strange instructions in ‘The Alchemist of Paris’

In an age when many people were illiterate, the most common way to navigate a city was by signs.

The Musée Carnavalet in Le Marais in Paris, France, which I was lucky enough to visit last year, has a wonderful collection of signs that graced the shops and inns of Paris from the sixteenth to the early twentieth centuries.

One of my favourites - The Sign of the Three Mice

One of my favourites – The Sign of the Three Mice

Signs were either painted or made from wrought iron.

Keys might be the sign of an innkeeper. The sign of the pig might lead the way to a charcuterie. A hat maker might hang the sign of a wig over his door. Corn or wheat was often the sign of a baker.

Some signs clearly indicate what the shop sold, while others were more fanciful and intriguing.

Signs in the Musée Carnavalet's collection

Signs in the Musée Carnavalet’s collection

The signs are not just beautiful but evoke a wonderful sense of mystery.

Weaving these signs into the storyline is another way to immerse the reader in the historical world of the characters.

Turn left at the Sign of the Three Mice, then right at the Beckoning Hand, then left at the Laughing Imp. Who knows what you’ll find!