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Posts Tagged ‘Robert Louis Stevenson’

I am, right now, reading through what I have written for a second Robert Louis Stevenson-based book–a sort of sequel to the one (The Beast of Gevaudan) I’ll have out here pretty soon. I’m about 40k words into it. Both books, at their core, are driven by Stevenson’s love for his eventual-wife, Fanny Osbourne. An American, she was eleven years his senior and married, with one adult daughter, a teenaged son, and when they met, she was grieving the death of her youngest son, still a toddler. You would have thought that these two people couldn’t possibly have anything in common, Stevenson, a Scotsman in his twenties, never married, no children, etc. But what they went through fairly early in their relationship, I think, spoke of something pretty amazing that none of us will ever really know anything about.

Biographers of Stevenson can’t seem to decide exactly how they feel about Fanny, which is understandable, as she was somewhat elusive emotionally and, at many points, erratic. They met in France, and from then on they’d spent about two years together, and by “together,” I mean that, too, was erratic. Then, a final summer during which they lived together–and she picked up rather abruptly and returned to the States, to her husband (who kept his own mistress). We can suppose she had her reasons, and they range from the impropriety of divorce in the mid-to-late 1800s to her own emotional instability. It was likely both, but it all must have been largely informed by who she was at her core, and the life that brought her to that sense of self, unstable though it may have been. Mostly, history doesn’t shed much of a kind light on her, Stevenson being so outgoing and his literary output so engaging and so well-loved. I, myself, have a hard time thinking of her as detached from what must have been going on inside, which few know much about. She kept quiet about a lot of that.

My assumption–and I think it’s a safe assumption, based on how people work–is that she was less restrained about how she truly felt about things with Stevenson. And whoever she was in those moments must have been rather amazing. I don’t know if anyone can paint a perfectly accurate picture of what their conversations and intimacy must have been like during those first two years, particularly during that final summer in France, when she nursed him as he lay dangerously ill. But what Stevenson had clearly come away with was a deep and indefatigable love. Fanny’s leaving nearly flattened him, though he kept moving, kept writing, kept falling into bouts of illness and eventually coming out. What’s clear, though, is that his dedication to her–regardless of the pain he was experiencing–didn’t waver for at least a year. During that year, he made his journey through the French highlands (the setting and backbone of The Beast of Gevaudan). In his Travels with a Donkey, on which my book is based, he included this passage:

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He was undoutbedly thinking of Fanny, who must have consumed most of his waking thoughts. This was a few months after she’d left. Yes, still pretty fresh at the time, and so understandable. But it was a year to the month she left that he’d received a letter from her, the contents of which no one knows for sure, that drove him into what was, at the time, a rather rash and unthinkable action, particularly in the eyes of his family and friends: He set off to America, and not just America, to California. It took him a month of hard ship and rail travel to reach her, and when he arrived, she received him coldly. He’d spent the entire journey terribly ill and near starving (as anxiety and his impoverished conditioned left him frequently unable to eat), and yet he took a horse and, in despair, disappeared into the desert (had he not been found and nursed back to health by a couple of ranchers, he likely would have died much earlier than the equally-tragic age of 44).

What on earth is wrong with this woman? Well, probably a lot of things. Her adult life on the frontier with a philandering husband who disappeared for lengthy periods was rather traumatic (at one point, he’d left his family to selfishly go prospecting, was rumored “killed by indians,” but returned no worse for the wear almost two years later–and she took him back, for the umpteenth time). Overall, she thought very little of herself and was fairly mistreated. She was prone to fits of “madness,” not in her right mind–which could have been emotional dysregulation brought on by so much unresolved trauma and disappointment. If she was difficult to deal with from another’s point of view, her garbage sense of self likely made it much more difficult to deal with herself.

This, I think, is the key to their relationship and obvious dedication to one another.

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Hold tight. These words make my heart ache.

Whatever her issues were–whatever made her do the things she did, however irrational and potentially hurtful–Stevenson knew better, because he knew her better than anyone. For me, that is the only truly rational explanation for their relationship, which sustained itself through years of turmoil and thousands of miles. The time they’d spent together in the beginning must have been absolutely bonding. There must have been something bigger and deeper than merely having things in common, or relating somehow, through all the various human experiences, or things comparable. It must have been, despite their differences in how they functioned in life, some indelible identifying as two individuals–it had to have been something that transcended the average give and take between two people. There had to have been such a monumentally deep level of understanding that forgiveness and affection came as naturally as a heartbeat. And this sounds lovely, doesn’t it? I would hazard to guess, though, that it’s not as common as we’d like to think.

Too many people throw away good people because of hurt or angry feelings, and many of us have been on the receiving end of that. Not every relationship could, or should, work out, but when you can see someone’s worth through their hurtful behavior–because perhaps that behavior stems from something beyond their control–and you refuse to let go because you know they are, in reality, much better than that, that’s probably something worth holding onto or holding out for. Stevenson held out and held on. He told Fanny, in what was very likely one of her “fits of madness” to hold tight. He’d be there. In the end, I think, whatever Fanny’s misgivings might have been about hitching herself to Stevenson in the long run (and she did have them), it surely was this that swayed her to his favor. That, for once, all she’d have to do is hold tight, and he’d be there.

casco

Fanny and Stevenson, with Fanny’s son, Lloyd (floor), King Kalakaua of Hawaii, and Stevenson’s mother.

My books are somewhat lighthearted, and involve the supernatural, which is always fun to write. But, the driving force, really, is the bond between these two people who, regardless of how things looked to others (and often even to themselves), refused to give up on one another. Stevenson experts will say this is too romantic a take, but I disagree. I think it’s a human way to think about all that missing information–those gaps of correspondence. He might have written to friends to say he was truly low, but considering he was half-starving, near-deathly ill and on a crowded, stinking train en route to a woman he didn’t even know would take him, “truly low” is a bit of an understatement. And Fanny didn’t talk. Rather than fill in those gaps with the views of his friends and family, gleaned from copious letters between themselves, which absolutely eviscerated this woman they barely knew, I’d rather fill them with an idea of true love, true caring, true understanding that can withstand the worst of what life hits you with, even when it comes from each other. This is the only way I can understand what Stevenson put himself through to be with “the woman a man loves.”

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BeastGevaudan1For this was the land of the ever-memorable Beast, the Napoleon Bonaparte of wolves. What a career was his! He lived ten months at free quarters in Gévaudan and Vivarais; he ate women and children and “shepherdesses celebrated for their beauty”; he pursued armed horsemen; he has been seen at broad noonday chasing a post-chaise and outrider along the king’s high-road, and chaise and outrider fleeing before him at the gallop. He was placarded like a political offender, and ten thousand francs were offered for his head. And yet, when he was shot and sent to Versailles, behold! a common wolf, and even small for that.

–Robert Louis Stevenson

I just finished yet another revision of this story, the title of which has been changed a hundred times and, at this point, stands at The Wolves of Gévaudan (still not satisfactory). Although I am leaving for a week-long mindfulness retreat at the Blue Cliff Monastery from September 10th-18th, I still have a few days to work on the second Stevenson novel I’ve got in my head. It’s sort of in my head.

While Wolves is basically set against the template of RLS’s Travels with a Donkey Through the Cévennes, this second story will follow Louis to America–this time I’m using The Amateur Emigrant, Across the Plains, and The Silverado Squatters. Right now, I’m just figuring out the timeline, which characters I want to use and how I want to use them. In this book, we will actually meet Fanny Osbourne, so I’m thinking a little extra reading is in order. I think my favorite part of writing something like this is all the research/reading associated with it.

So, last time we had werewolves (and you really can’t go wrong with werewolves). This time, I think I’m going to be exploring a variety of geography-dependent folklore. Who’s with me?

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Well, we’ve moved into the new house, and so far, it’s been great. There’s still a ton to do, but now that we’re here and don’t have to drive three hours every day, it makes it a lot easier to keep up with, oh, I dunno, the rest of my life.

Update-wise, I suppose the biggest update is that I’m no longer with Nightscape Press. We gave it about six months or so and concluded that our approaches/style/technique–whatever you want to call it–just wasn’t meshing. Which was entirely a possibility. If you’ve never really worked together in that capacity, you don’t know until you do it, and really, I think we’re all glad we discovered and acknowledged it sooner rather than later. Something like that can stretch out and then grind ugly until everything just shits the bed. This way, everyone’s still friends and no one’s feelings got hurt. I sincerely wish Nightscape all the best, and you can bet you’ll still see me posting about their new releases and such here.

Despumation, my metal fiction journal, has been going great. Now that things have settled down a bit and time has opened up, I’m getting back to reading submissions and doing what I need to do there. That’s really going to pick up in the next couple of weeks. I’m expecting to get some author interviews up on the site, so definitely look for links to those here when that happens.

HoWCrownToday, actually, I managed to finish a couple of big projects. First, I finished a first pass of Mara Valderran’s Heirs of War: Crown of Thorns. I edited Mara’s first in this series, Heirs of War. She’s been lovely to work with–the ideal editor’s writer. She doesn’t take edits personally and understands that I’m not trying to pick on her–we’re all here for the same thing: to make this book the best book it can be. And I think the reason she doesn’t take it personally is, frankly, because she’s knows who’s really in charge. It’s her. I think some writers forget that sometimes. I’m not her publisher; I’m her editor. She can tell me to hit the road whenever she wants. The other thing, too, is that…Mara’s a pro. If she’s got a weakness, she faces it head on and works to strengthen it. And her strengths, she works to make stronger. If you’re not doing that as a writer, you may as well pack it in. So, I’m glad, today, to have gotten to a point where this book is one step closer to getting into the hands of the readers Mara attracted with her first book (Mara is a marketing machine). You can expect to see this available October 13.

LNWYWSThe second project I finished today was an illustration that will accompany a piece in Michelle Kilmer’s upcoming collection of short stories, flash fiction, and poems, Last Night While You Were Sleeping (Michelle gives it a mention here, among other things–go look at what she’s got going on). Look at that cover–isn’t it lovely? I love it. She’s got a good eye, and I’m excited to see/read this when it comes out on October 31st in paperback.

I’m most excited, though, about returning to my own writing. I’ve got a few plans for the first Stevenson novel that I can’t really go into right now, but once that ball is rolling, I’m so very ready to get back to writing the second Stevenson novel. *taps head* Most of it’s up here. Most of it. Well, some of it, but most of the general idea–where it’s going. Up in the ol’ noggin’. And now I’ve got a little time to get back to the 13,600 words that have been sitting lonely, waiting, waiting…I’m coming, Louis. I’m coming. Keep yer ‘stache on.

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Le_Bouchet_Saint_Nicolas

Thwack went the switch and as Modestine scurried forward, the straps on the pack let loose like a noodle and Louis’s things made a trail down the path. The sun was already descending and after the half-hour it took for Louis to gather and repack his things, it was coming on dusk. Flustered, he picked a path, prodded Modestine to follow it, and before long, just as he felt surely he would at length fall into the fit of weeping he’d been warding off all day, he saw two figures striding toward him over the gravel.

The man was lanky and dismal, staring blindly ahead and followed by a small older woman. She wore what looked like her Sabbath best, layers of pressed petticoats and an embroidered ribbon decorating a pristine felt hat. From beneath this pretty frame, she muttered such a litany of obscenities that, on the streets of New Town would have made Louis blush.

Louis hailed the man.

Pardon, do you know the way to Bouchet?”

The man pointed west and northwest, mumbled something inaudible, and stalked past the well-traveled pair. The woman tacked behind him, still swearing, without so much as a cursory acknowledgment of Louis. Modestine snorted.

He watched them incredulously as they sped along the hillside, and realizing his one chance of reaching any place restful this night was disappearing into the twilight, he shouted after them. Then he ran. They finally stopped once he’d outrun them and, blocking their way, he asked again his direction.

The man, presumably the son, again mumbled uselessly and made to continue, but Louis caught the woman, presumably the mother—who had still not stopped swearing to herself—by the shoulder.

Désolé, excusez-moi,”[1] Louis began. “I simply cannot let you go until you’ve pointed me my way, or I am forever lost.”

“You can follow us the whole damned way, should you like,” the woman answered.

Merci,” Louis said, doubtfully.

“What the hell do you want at Lac du Bouchet?”

Louis didn’t know what to make of this woman’s language and so dodged the inquiry.

“Is it very far?”

“About a bloody hour and a half,” she answered, and with that, the pair turned and continued on their way as if they’d never been stopped.

Louis called to Modestine, who ignored him, and then he ran back to beat her forward.

Twenty minutes put them on the flat upland and Louis paused a moment to look back upon the hills and valleys of the day. Mount Mézenc and that beyond St Julien stretched behind him, a field of shadows broken only by the light patches of farms and villages that blushed beneath the gloom of evening. Instead of satisfaction, Louis felt the sting of loneliness and gripped Modestine’s bridle tighter so as to not be tempted to throw himself down the ragged slope in despair.

Then, in the gloom, a silhouette moved far down the ragged path he’d just scaled. Louis squinted, and could make out a cloaked man standing there. His face was masked by the shade of his hood, though he was too distant for Louis to distinguish features at any rate. As Louis made a few steps forward, the cloaked figure moved with him. Perplexed, Louis saw that his guides were fast losing him, and so, cloaked figure or no cloaked figure, he simply must move on so as not to become hopelessly lost in the dark. Resolving to think no more of it, Louis pulled Modestine to follow.

He caught up and the group moved along a high road when Louis eventually recognized signs of a village coming into view, which surprised him as he had been told the lake was unoccupied. Soon, he found himself caught amongst the bustling closing of the day—cattle lurched down the road from pasture, driven by children; women dashed past on horses, legs astride and wearing caps.

Louis stopped a dirty-faced, black-haired boy.

Pardon,” he said. “What village is this?”

“Bouchet St Nicolas,” the child said and moved ahead to rustle his small herd.

Louis stopped abruptly and Modestine followed suit with no questions asked. His shoulders slumped, his chin met his chest which tightened in the grasp of disappointment. The two strange peasants had lead him exactly a mile south of the lake. Ahead, the couple had blended with the assembly and would disappear from Louis’s life. The cord of his basket scored painfully into his shoulder and his whipping arm ached heavily at his side. With a sigh, he feebly stopped another child.

“Which way to the inn?”


[1] “I’m sorry, excuse me.”

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RLSWriting

*cramp, cramp*

Funny, for whatever reason, I was contemplating RLS’s handwriting the other day. I don’t recall the context—I must have been reading something. Perhaps it was some consideration on how, since the age of the typewriter, we’ve increasingly become isolated from having to hand write anything. Seriously, as an adult, how often have you had to write anything out by hand?

*scribble, scribble*

*scribble, scribble*

Something must have reminded me of some of Stevenson’s correspondence, in which he’d sometimes complain (understandably so) that he’d been writing and writing and writing, but one can only write so much without cramping up. When I read that, it occurred to me that I hadn’t truly been processing his…er…process (well, his and everyone else of his era). Obviously, I knew he was writing out his manuscripts by hand, but the consequence of that hadn’t really sunk in. Later, at Vailima, of course he enlisted the help of Fanny’s daughter, Belle, to write while he dictated.

Anyway, here’s a nifty treatise on the handwriting of Robert Louis Stevenson. Enjoy, and ta-ta ’til Wednesday, when I will have new words for you.

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RLSFlageolet

Some tunes for you this crappy, not-at-all spring-like Friday.

You might have known that RLS noodled around on a flageolet, but did you know he composed his own music? Quite a bit of it, too, considering how much time he spent writing.

Learn a little about it here, and then go listen to it here! And have a swell weekend!

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vesalius-p559Straight to the words!

In front of the alter—his feet pointing to the nave, his head to the apse—lay Father Apollinaris. Louis approached the corpse, though he was loathe to. It was not dressed, but only covered to the chin with a set of clean robes, as though it had been too difficult to dress such a ravaged body. No part of the man was bare except for his head. The friar’s face was ivory, and Louis studied it, wondering at the stillness of his dead skin, taking note that, in life, the very flesh must have some barely-perceptible movement that signifies the soul surging underneath. The dead man’s mouth set strangely, and Louis saw that it was propped closed with a wooden block beneath the chin. Looking around to be sure he was alone, he pushed the edge of the robe down just a bit. Indeed, he suspected the only part of the poor friar that went unscathed was his peaceful face, as even the block that held his jaw shut sank into the wounds he’d received in that area.

To their devoted credit, there was no blood. None to soil the habit that covered him, none to stain the wood of the block. His body had been so thoroughly cleaned, the men that performed the duty could sleep well knowing they’d helped deliver Father Apollinaris to his Heavenly Father cleaner than he’d come into this world. Louis pushed the robes down a little further, searching for the thing that would answer his troublesome question. He prayed he would not have to see more than his spirit could take.

Below the block, the holy man’s flesh lay mangled and torn. Louis marveled at the man’s resilience, for his wounds were so grave, his lingering time had defied the truth of them. His eyes searched the carnage, hoping not to have to descend to the man’s belly, which, judging by the shape of the covering, could not be seen without a lifetime of nightmares. Then, he found it. Around the edge of the butchery that extended from the friar’s chest to his right shoulder, spread four claw marks, as from an animal.

Not too much to say about this excerpt. It’s obviously not in Stevenson’s original Travels with a Donkey, though it would have been a doozy if it was.

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