Who is the Shadow Queen?

Who is the Shadow Queen?

{Portrait of Claude des Oeillets}

The main character of my novel The Shadow Queen is Claude des Oeillets (dit Claudette), an impoverished young woman from the world of the theater. Socially scorned and denounced by the church, she lives on the fringes of society. As the daughter of a theatrical star, she exists in her mother’s shadow.


Unusual and beautiful portrait of Athenais

{Portraits of Madame de Montespan}

In contrast, Athénaïs, Madame de Montespan, lives at the heart of high society. She becomes Claudette’s obsessive passion, seeing in her a perfect life—a life without hunger and fear, a life of ease and beauty. Athénaïs’s life is everything Claudette’s is not.

While my other Sun Court novel, Mistress of the Sun, is set largely at Court, in both novels I am exploring the dynamic edge where court and ordinary life meet, with often explosive, unpredictable results. The Shadow Queen is about many things, but at its heart is the relationship between these two woman, Claudette and Athénaïs, who are close in age and share many of the same interests, yet are worlds apart. Claudette envies Athénaïs’s wealth; Athénaïs envies Claudette’s freedom, her life in the theater. Over time, they become dependent upon one-another. As Athénaïs’s devoted maid, Claudette is willing to do anything for her—up to a point.

It’s at that point that Claudette must step out of the shadows—and into the light of her own life.

Shadow Queen Cover copy 2

Over the five years I was writing this novel, I considered many titles. In the end, I felt that the title The Shadow Queen metaphorically captured the spirit of this story on a number of levels.

As part of the theatrical world, Claudette lives in the shadows of society. When she joins Athénaïs at court, she becomes the shadow of the official “Shadow Queen.” The story is very much about the ever-fascinating Athénaïs, but it is also about Claudette’s “dark” obsession with her and what Athénaïs represents, an obsession that leads Claudette into the shadow-side of that opulent world, a world of corruption and black magic, the shadow-side of want and hunger.

Who, then, is queen of shadows? Officially, of course, it is Athénaïs, but it could be others as well—Madame Voisin, for example, a woman who fulfills dark wishes, and even our “Good Knight” Claudette.SaveSave



Draft 8: check. Drafts 9, 10, 11: yet to come. On my painfully slow revision process

Draft 8: check. Drafts 9, 10, 11: yet to come. On my painfully slow revision process

{Lovely San Miguel de Allende, where I am right now. A photo by Leah Feldon, it is similar to the view from my writing room.}

Yesterday was a big day for me: I woke at 4:00am, and shortly before 8:00am I emailed my manuscript to my editor and agent. It was Friday 13. I am not superstitious, but that did give me pause.

Some writers are able to write a perfectly good novel in two or three drafts. I am not one of those writers! It takes me years (and years) to uncover the complexities, the depths and the “fall line” of a story. My revision process is extremely slow, in spite of all the techniques I use (i.e. plotting) to try to speed it up. I do hope I’m getting closer.

J.K. Rowling’s plot guideline. No doubt it helped!

Moonsick (working title) is my novel for Young Adults, a story based on the teen years of Josephine Bonaparte’s daughter Hortense. Is the novel too giddy? Too dark? I’m frankly not sure. This is why beta readers — teen beta readers — will be important to my final revision process.

Teen beta readers wanted

Later that same day I sent out a newsletter that included a call for teen beta readers. I now have three readers, and (I hope) more to come. I’d also like to find a book club that reads YA fiction — not exclusively, but often enough that they are comfortable with the genre. It occurs to me that a high school English class might be interested in reading it (although it really is a novel for girls). Let me know if you have a teen reader or a book club or class to suggest.

Going back to where it all began

Looking for reader guidelines I’ve used in the past, I discovered a blog post I wrote in February of 2012 — five years ago! — announcing that I would be writing a YA novel about Hortense.

Hortense as a teen — the subject of my next-next novel (Surprise!) 

(Note that This Bright Darkness, mentioned in the post, was the working title of The Shadow Queenwhich was published two years later, in the spring of 2014.)

Hortense de Beauharnais

Lovely Hortense as a teen. Energetic, creative, talented — a bright spark.


Sorting your literary archives (otherwise known as paper clutter)

Sorting your literary archives (otherwise known as paper clutter)

At nine this morning there were 13 people in our house, all talking and going about their business. Many of them had showed up at 8:00. We’re having our house painted, some people were here to scope out photo ops (for what, I don’t know), etc. etc. etc.

It’s a chaotic time of year at the best of times. In two weeks we fly back to Canada. Wrapping up a half-year of work and books and notes and stuff always sends me into a spin, but this year it is intensified because we’ve put our house in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, up for sale, and are building (and designing) a new one here.


We have been living half-the-year in Mexico for close to twenty years. Because we will be moving, I’ve been pruning my selves and closets. Long overdue, true, but it’s harder for a writer of historical fiction, I suspect, and especially for one (like me) who doesn’t throw anything away. In the last week I’ve sent off five or six big boxes of give-aways of out-dated computer equipment and books I know I will no longer need.

Worse, I have stacks of edited drafts in my office lock-up.


As in stacks!

Clutter—or literary archives?

Long ago, in a Margaret Atwood workshop, she told the class: “Don’t throw anything away.” (Dangerous words to tell a hoarder.)

I recently told my good friend Merilyn Simonds that I was going to have to throw out the papers filling up my lock-up and she exclaimed, “Don’t!”

Both Merilyn Simonds and Margaret Atwood are archived. Their papers are picked up every year—sweet!—to be put into their literary archives, lodged in a university library. This is something I have long intended to look into (more on this later, I promise), but for the time being—and perhaps forever—my “literary archives” are basically clutter in the basement of our house in Canada and in my storage lock-up in Mexico.

sorting papers for my literary archives

Sorting and labelling the papers this morning so that at least they can be easily moved to the next lock-up made three things clear about my writing process.

  • One: I write lots of drafts.
  • Two: I print out lots of drafts.
  • Three: I am messy as all get out. (Don’t you love that old expression?)

Do I even want this known? A good question!

Two things I learned, and which I recommend for your literary archives

1) I am very glad that I include the draft number in the footer of each draft. Here is the format I am using now:

Gulland, The Game of Hope, draft 5.5, started April 1, 2015

2) I regret that I haven’t dated the editorial notes I receive, or noted who wrote them. (Of course I thought it was obvious at the time.)

I was amused to see this title page on draft 9.6 of what is now The Shadow Queen:


The title of that novel went through so many evolutions!

Figuring out how to begin writing again

Mixed in with all this is the ongoing frustration of trying to figure out how to proceed with my ever-so-challenging draft 5.4 (i.e. the 4th draft of the 5th draft) of The Game of Hope.

There are many new chapters, new scenes required—intimidating!—and I decided that since life is chaotic, the solution might be to tackle writing in a chaotic way: I will simply write snippets of dialogue and scenes as they come to me, and piece them together later.

Writing new material is always a bit like inching into a pool of very cold water, and because there is so very much to do in this coming-and-going transition period, I have set myself a simple goal: 100 words a day. Once that’s going, I will inch it up.

Update: 316 words today! This is what happens when you set a 100-word-a-day goal. :-)

A Crazy Publication Day

A Crazy Publication Day

Yesterday was a crazy day: I sent out a newsletter, the U.S. paperback edition of The Shadow Queen came out, andquite by coincidence — my INK e-book edition of The Shadow Queen launched in the UK and beyond.

TSQfinalcover2Shadow Queen Anchor (US) ppbk cover

Any one of these requires quite a bit of on-line attention, but to have all three in one morning?

Too much!

By 11:00, I decided I needed a walk, so I went out to buy watercolour supplies for the class I’m taking this afternoon. Very therapeutic!

And soon … to the beach, where I will be reading the 4th draft of The Game of Hope with an editorial eye. I put the novel aside December 1. It will be interesting to read it afresh.

I’m reading:

Publishing 101 by Jane Friedman. Excellent. Highly recommended.

The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber. I’m only a few chapters in and I love it already. Will it last? I very rarely read speculative fiction. I suspect this one will hold me.