Wordsmith Laners, I’m truly very sorry about my neglect of this blog and my writing over the past few weeks. I have so many posts in draft format that my brain is failing to perfect, and although I have plenty of content for you, I just can’t seem to get into it while a hundred other things swirl in my brain. I am hoping you’ll forgive me when you read this edited version of my latest Bride to Be column, and I promise I will be back soon! All my love (desiring all of your understanding), Sarah xoxo
Picture this. You’re five and a half weeks out from your wedding and your stress levels are already running rampant, wreaking havoc on your skin and rendering you the type of bride you thought you’d never be. Your fiancé is scared of you, your best friend thinks you’re a diva and your photographer wants to kill you because your 10,000 commitments means you can’t settle on a date for the pre-wedding consultation. Your bank account has $243 in it, your dress feels heavy at one of your final fittings and you swear it’s a lot pooofier than you wanted it to be, and the veil you revolved the whole dress around suddenly doesn’t look right with the lace you chose when you were having one of your indecisive moments. The kinds of indecisive moments you usually have at sumo salad or muffin break, but quadrupled in magnitude. And then your band cancels on you. And people start telling you that the new owners of the reception centre aren’t up to scratch where their meals are concerned, and that there probably won’t be enough food on the big day, which is equivalent to the anti-christ’s coming to earth where Lebanese weddings are concerned. Suddenly, it feels like the whole world is crumbling around you, and you start talking to yourself in the third person (in public, which is something you promised yourself you would never do).
So what do you do? For starters, you don’t pull your hair out, (much as it seems to be the most appropriate action) because you know for certain that your fiance is not going to love you the same if you are bald. You don’t screech any profanities (even in Lebanese, which people are less likely to understand) at passers-by, because that would be entirely un-Christian and you think that Jesus is already mad at you as it is.
So what do you? You stop writing, and you stop making sense. You stop reading your beloved books and magazines, because your brain’s understanding capacities are somewhat diminished, and because you’re not crazy enough as it is, you let your eyebrows grow to horrendously frightening levels. You almost crash your car at the Give Way sign in Revesby. You start reading Contiki and Topdeck Travel brochures instead while you dream of Paris and Santorini and the monastry of the Black Madonna in Poland, which is somewhere you’ve never been, but want to go anyway because the Black Madonna would likely let you whinge and hopefully understand your predicaments with her amazing Mother-of-God powers. And then one day, you wake up, think ‘stuff it’, and decide to stop caring and start delegating.
You tell the wedding planner to discuss the menu options (and quantities) yet again with the reception centre – after all, it’s not like you can change the venue when the RSVP cards are pouring in like the rains of this Sydney spring. You have your mother, who is known for her ability (if necessary) to comandeer a large army by her sheer will, loud voice and determination, back her up, implying once again the enormity of the food situation.
And, because you tell yourself it would be mean to use your journalistic powers to black-list your band, (and because you’re apparently a bridezilla and thus everyone who has failed you thus far) you have your MC find you an alternative BETTER band.
And then of course, you motivate yourself to get out of your rut. You start by taking the afternoon off and treating yourself to the Now to Wow treatment at Benefit cosmetics at Paddington (because good brows fix everything) and a decent shopping spree. You buy shoes for your laylia (pre-wedding party) even though they’re ridiculously overpriced for their style, and a pair of sandals because they’re pink (and encrusted with pearls).
earrings from Forever New ($18), pretty floral tea cups from T2 ($22) and four MOR scented candle ($40) whose amazing fragrance will be wafting through the air long after they bid you farewell for your honeymoon.
And then you go home and gorge on Pistachio ice-cream, because you know, you can’t fix all bad habits, especially the ones that taste really good, and do wonders for the closet you’ll still be loving long after the wedding has taken place and become a distant memory that threatned to envelope you in all its madness.
As you all know, I recently read a fantastic novel that retold the tale of one of history’s most renowned couples. And of course, I just had to get inside her wordsmith head to see what her wordsmith journey has been all about, and what other creative tales she might have on the horizon for my bookshelf. Wordsmith Laners, I give you an interview with Anne Fortier…
In a nutshell, describe your writer’s journey so far, which has culminated in the release of Juliet: I started writing novels at age 11, and submitted my first ms to a publisher when I was 13. Twenty years of trial-and-error later, my first novel was published in Denmark in 2005. I learned from that experience, too, and all those tough lessons taught me how *not* to go about things, and culminated in the publication of JULIET now in 2010 – a loooong dream come true.
You had one novel published before Juliet, tell us a little about that one. It is the story of a group of mad scientists, who secretly work to bring about the end of the world as we know it. They take a young woman, Marie, hostage in their bizarre efforts, and the book tells the story from her perspective. It is a genre-defying gothic comedy, which got a lot of reviewers’ underwear in a knot, but those who *got* it and saw all the philosophical slapstick treally loved it. It is a sort of Plato-meets-Dan Brown-but-enacted-by-a-circus-clown sort of story. One reader told me she had been reading the book on a transatlantic flight, but had to stop, because she was laughing so hard that people trying to sleep gave her the hairy eyeball.
What inspired you to take on history’s greatest lovers and change their story around? It really all started with the city of Siena (Italy). I went there with my mother and completely fell in love with the place. Only after deciding that I was going to set a novel there did I discover – thanks to Mom* – that Siena was, in fact, the setting of the very first version of the Romeo & Juliet-story, from 1476. Once I knew that, I knew I simply *had* to write that story.
How much research did it involve? Did you spend a lot of time in Siena? I have piles and piles of notes in my office, all about Siena history and Shakespeare. My mother is responsible for a lot of them, because she was the one who did the bulk of the research on the ground in Siena, while I was living in the US, working full time. I did get to Siena a few times while writing the book, but Mom was my fact-checker and the one who would go around and truffle out unusual tidbits from archives and museums.
Your reading of original stories of Romeo & Juliet helped you discover that the love birds were in fact originally from Siena and not Verona. Were these stories available in English, and if not, did the language barrier prove to be a struggle at all? The funny thing is that all those short stories are available in English, and still, few people know that Shakespeare did not invent the characters. I was able to find two different compilations in online second-hand bookstores, and so the research was no problem at all. That said, the bulk of the specialized literature about Siena history only exists in Italian, and my mother translated several books for me, since she is perfectly fluent in that language.
I love the way Santa Caterina (Saint Catherine) and the Virgin Mary feature (almost) prominently in your story, as though it is by divine will that the couple are meant for one another. Given our increasingly secular society, what prompted you to include that? Apart from the fact that medieval europe was largely Christian, that is, and given the fact that we’re not so public about religious matters these days. I actually think most people are still quite religious – we just dont subscribe to organized religion the way our grandparents did. We still have the so-called religious instinct; we often believe in a higher being, we are superstitious, we talk about fate, we like to see our lives as part of a grand design. And even though we call her by different names, we still long for the protection of the mother-goddess. This is why I think it is so easy for us to accept the way in which people in the book relate to Saint Catherine and the Virgin Mary.
How long did it take you to write the book? About three years, although much of that time was spent editing.
The novel is going to be published all over the world, with rights sold all over the place. Did you honestly think it would get this big? How do you feel when you read its reviews and hear of its successes? Even though I have a pretty good imagination, I never anticipated that the book would be sold in so many countries. I am of course delighted that things are going so well, because that means there is a chance I can turn to full-time writing from now on – my oldest and most persistent dream.
You have a PhD in the History of Ideas. Tell us a little bit about your academic work. What exactly is a PhD in the history of ideas and what was your thesis on? The history of ideas is a discipline that combines philosophy, history, and literature, and which traces certain ideas and concepts through the ages. My thesis was about the idea of cultural identity in the Roman Empire as expressed in the works of Latin historians over a 400-year stretch, and much of my teaching has been about tracing the ideas and realities of empire from Antiquity to later ages.
Your mum played a major role in the production of this book. How was it working with her on the project? It was fantastic. We would be on the phone all the time, discussing her research, and we had so much fun. It was great to have a project to work on together, rather than merely exchanging news, and I think we got to know each other in a whole new way.
I love the fact that you gave Romeo & Juliet descendants. It was like a second chance at love! Were you saddened by the fact that the originals couldn’t be together? Would you have changed the story to give them the happy ending we all feel that they deserve? Why/Why not? Actually, in the first draft of the novel I did give them a different ending, but it ultimately felt too cheesy. That said, I have left enough loose ends for a sequel, so … you never know what new stories might surface. [Sarah squeels with delight upon reading this].
Can we have a peak at your goals list? Right now my goals list is pretty down-to-earth: As soon as the book-touring is over, I want to get my family back into a good rhythm, so we all sleep calmly at night; I need to get myself into shape, so I dont develop writers ass; and oh yes … I need to finish my next book! In the long term I would like to keep writing high-concept books and hope to please readers all over the world.
Will you be doing any book tours in Australia at all? Nothing has been planned for JULIET, probably because I have a small baby. But in the future I would love to visit Australia and New Zealand, and I actually have a lot of friends from there, who keep urging me to come.
This blog is for aspiring writers (both journalists and fiction/non-fiction writers). Any tips for its readers? If I were to give just one piece of advice, it would probably be this: Start thinking about your query letter as soon as possible. Dont wait until the ms [manuscript] is finished, because you may end up with a story you cant pitch.
What’s next on your writing agenda? I have a lot of interviews and blogs I have to write this fall, but after that I look forward to going full throttle on my next book.
Ten in the Hot Seat:
Describe yourself in one word: indefatigable
Biggest accomplishment to date: landing my wonderful husband
You wish you wrote: faster
Can’t leave home without: lip balm
One thing you are currently writing: tips for aspiring writers for the Readers Digest writers blog
First thing you wrote: a story about a girl who gets kidnapped by desert bandits
Addicted to reading: Jane Austen
Top spot on your goals list: keep my family healthy and happy
If you were a character in a novel, you’d be: Robert Langdon. That guy seems to be wonderfully long-lived.
The best thing about being a wordsmith: I can move mountains without getting out of my pyjamas!
* Here in Oz, we spell mum with a U, not an O (American spelling). I kept Anne’s spelling as is for authenticity! Hope that clears up any concerns about my Aussie grammar!