Dear Friends and readers, what a thrill to present my power point on Edward Latham’s adventure at Empire Wealth Strategies, my old job, and have a reunion with former clients. The warmth in the room brought tears to my eyes and I took too few books!
Dear Friends, as you know this is my first experience with blog interviews, all conducted by accomplished published writers. I had no idea what to expect. I was delighted with the questions and had to dig deep. With the interviewers’ permission, here are some highlights.
From Adrienne Dillard (www.adrienne-dillard.com): During the opening scene at Oxford, Latham is treated to a production of Palamon and Arcite, a play by Richard Edwards. The show is meant as a not-so-subtle message to Elizabeth that it was time to marry and produce an heir in order to secure the realm. This tradition of using art to make political statements has continued into the modern world, but there are few better at making covertly political statements than playwright William Shakespeare. If you were to plan the entertainments for our world leaders going on a grand Elizabethan procession, which play would you stage?
We live in a representative republic, not a monarchy, so the “not-so-subtle message” I’d want to send would be to the electorate rather than the leader. Instead of Shakespeare, I’d stage Jean Genet’s The Blacks. I don’t want to date myself, but I saw it when I was very very young. The audience was almost equal blacks and whites. The cast would only perform for a mixed audience. The action in the theatre in the round took place on two levels of the stage, and pulled in audience members. Black actors wore white masks and vice versa, and yelled at each other every epithet and threat know to the dark side of the “colonial” soul. Its purpose was to make the audience really uncomfortable. It did. People walked out shell-shocked and mute. The play was popular during the fight for civil rights here. It’s time to bring it back to our frayed democracies.
From Maria Alexander (www.mariaalexander.net): What do you think modern readers will be able to relate to about Edward Latham, your story’s protagonist?
What a great question. His unmoored wanderings as he struggles to find an effective place in a changing world. I hope readers will react in two ways: if their lives are stable, jis vicissitudes will be all the more vivid, but if they have any discomfort about compromises they’ve made, if they’ve colored over the edges, hopefully they’ll recognize themselves in him, love him and root for him. I’ve heard both responses from readers.
Your discography is impressive, especially to someone like me who grew up listening to and performing classical music. What role does music play in your writing, if any?
Music affected my perception quite a bit. As I read about Elizabeth I, who was a good musician, I felt that she acted polyphonically, not linearly, in politics. I always saw three or more moving lines in her manipulations. That was my original fascination with her, what I thought other interpreters didn’t capture, at least for me. I try to convey that side of her in the novel. She saved polyphonic music for England, by adding a clause to The Religious Settlement of 1559 banning the dismantling of endowed choirs. Radical Protestants resented her for it, but composers like Byrd and Tallis wouldn’t have thrived without it. A lot of great music wouldn’t exist without that clause. There are also music-oriented scenes in my novel. Latham’s love for Barbara Blomberg was stimulated by music. Blomberg was the greatest singer of her age, her voice made her Emperor Charles V’s mistress. I make her an amalgam of Joan Sutherland’s voice with a temperament of composers I’ve worked with. And Latham learns about Edmund Campion’s execution, a pivot point in the novel, from church bells and a balladeer’s song.
From Lisa J. Yarde (thebajanscribbler.blogspot.com): If you could experience any other time in history, what would it be?
A time when women had more equality. Pre-agrarian. Anthropologists say hunter-gatherer societies were more egalitarian, had more leisure and even better health than property-governed societies.
Where would you live, and what would your profession be?
The ancient fertile crescent. I’d be a healer, expert in herbal medicine, passed on orally by generations of ancestor healers. The social organization would be like some Australian aboriginal tribes, where fifty people can breed legally among fifty, a defined group. I’d have four children, two apprenticing to me, and child-rearing would be a collective activity.
From Elena Hartwell (www.elenahartwell.com): Is this your first manuscript? How did you find your agent/publisher?
Yes, it’s truly a debut. When I was a child, my parents insisted that I never make anything up. My father was a distinguished accountant who lived for balance sheets, while my mother equated fantasy with “madness.” I taught English Literature, then was a concert pianist and financial advisor. It’s been an astonishing mid-life adventure to un-creak my imagination. I think I’m still sane! The toughest challenge has been structure. I wasn’t prepared for that, because as a classical musician I did good Liszt and Copland climaxes. I thought the skill would transfer. It didn’t. Creating momentum from the characters’ vicissitudes took more false starts than I can count. I was lucky to have an agent, John A. Ware. I was thrilled to read on your blog that one of your other writers, Deirdre Feehan, was also his client. I’d love to swap “John” stories with her. He represented me in a non-fiction project, but urged me to try fiction until he died. After that I had helpful critique groups. Of course, I got rejections when I looked for another agent and publication. My opportunity came from the Historical Novel Society Portland Conference in 2017. They have a mentor program. You submit ten pages and they match you with a published writer in your field. The mentor edits your submission and gives you a fifteen-minute interview. My mentor was generous enough to refer me to her publisher, MadeGlobal Publishing, which wanted the book. Large dose of luck.
Dear friends and readers, customer and Goodreads appraisals are coming in. An exciting mix of glowing endorsements and thoughtful descriptions with minor reservations. I don’t know any of the writers. What’s astonishing is how readers are digging into the substance; they’re REALLY reading. If I was to excerpt I wouldn’t know where to begin, so I’m just putting the links in. If you are inclined, please write your thoughts about The Reversible Mask on Amazon or Goodreads websites!
For several years, Latham makes do without a personal manservant, trusting to mirrors attached to his hat brim to detect followers, and temporary hires. But a surprise attack convinces him to interview his sub-agent’s beloved nephew. Latham was satisfied from his sub-agent’s description that the youth had enough speech defects that if he betrayed his master no one would believe him. You’ll meet fictional Joris Boels in Chapter 8:
‘Pieter Boels ushered a gangly youth of about sixteen into Latham’s receiving room. Holding his cap in big, rough hands, Joris Boels stood braced in utmost opposition, young mouth set in pinched angry lines. Apart from this extreme mood, his looks were ordinary: light brown eyes, straight brown hair, a moderate nose in a face free of pockmarks, moles or freckles. Easily forgotten, Latham thought approvingly, if he could relax. “I hear you draw well,” Latham began.
The youth nodded sullenly. Latham dismissed Pieter and handed Joris paper, quill and black ink. “A man attacked me last year,” Latham continued.
A flicker in the noncommittal eyes.
“I don’t know who he was, but listen and draw.” Latham described the Douai novice’s square jaw, the angle of his ears, his cold blue eyes, his build, his walk, everything he remembered, including garlic breath and grunts.
Joris sat and looked at the ceiling then bent to the paper. His scraped-knuckle left hand became a delicate instrument, making tiny movements to fix facial details and sweeping ones to capture the attacker’s aggression. He brought the Douai novice to life, first full-faced, facing left, then right.
“It’s very like him,” Latham exclaimed in astonishment.
A faint smile spread the boy’s lips. “Eng–––el,” he attempted.
Latham interrupted. “Engelsman?”
The boy’s momentary openness slammed shut. He glared.
“No matter.” Latham was angry with himself. Pieter had warned him about condescending, yet he’d fallen into it right away. He handed Joris more paper and coloured inks. “He could disguise himself, so make him an artisan, a wounded veteran, a liveried servant, a physician.”
The novice became these characters.
“Would you recognise him anywhere?” Latham asked, settling in to wait as long as it took for the answer.
Joris focused on the ceiling. “Mm-INE!”
He was saying that he now owned this man. It was a subtle concept.
“Very good, Master Boels. One of your duties would be to follow my followers, draw them and map where they stay. Now, your uncle says you can fight.”
Joris nodded. Flexing his hands, he ambled after Latham to the courtyard, where a pugilist waited.’
First is the Spanish officer who becomes his oath-brother. Latham had brought urgent intelligence to the Spanish army about a French Huguenot army approaching to break the Spanish siege Mons. Sentries mistook Latham for a rebel saboteur and were preparing to kill him. Here’s your first glimpse in Chapter 4 of this fictional man:
‘Don Cristobal Covarrulejo d’Avila, newly appointed sergeant-major of the Eleventh Company, jerked awake. Had he dreamed gunshots or heard them? His head pounded with a hangover from last night’s wine. He leapt out of bed and ran to the close stool, just ahead of heaving up fatty duck and jets of pinkish liquid. That’s right, he remembered. I’m the new commander of the Eleventh Company, a group tainted by the corruption of its prior sergeant-major.
“The usual sordid stupidity,” his colonel had said as he signed Don Cristobal’s commission. “Gutierrez invoiced for a full complement when a third of his men were dead. He spent the company’s money while his men scrounged for scraps, even sold their physic to pay whores. It all came to light when he was ordered to Mons where he might have to fight. The rogue bleated for reinforcements! Probably he acted alone; his men certainly suffered. But a taint clings to them. The Eleventh Company needs a hard straight commander with warrior lineage. You can keep Gutierrez’ page and halberdiers until yours arrive.”
Don Cristobal wiped his mouth with the sleeve of his nightshirt. Well, he thought, he’d meet his men today, assume command tomorrow. Feeling better, he washed his face and sat on the bed. There was banging at the siege works. A bell rang, and the noise sputtered then stopped. Midday break. In the stark silence, he heard voices in the field, quite close. He picked out the word noose.
Jumping up, he opened the tent’s flap. The vast field was almost deserted, other officers being at the siege works.Only a few washerwomen and stable boys were around. They were staring at something. Don Cristobal stepped outside. Three men with drawn swords were pushing, prodding and dragging another man across the field. A priest was striding with them, robe flapping and talking at the prisoner’s ear. The prisoner was being hustled towards a tree across the road with one bare branch. A man was stringing a rope around the branch.
A hanging! Who were these men? Don Cristobal opened a box and took out three tin tubes, each one of a different thickness. He hadn’t tried this device yet, having confiscated it from a Dutch apothecary just two days ago. The Dutchman was executed for refusing to pay the tenth penny tax. The tubes, which had double reflecting glass pieces, were supposed to bring distant images closer when fitted together. Don Cristobal felt vaguely ashamed as he remembered the apothecary’s children clutching a soldier’s breeches as they dragged the father away. The apothecary had tried to barter the device, which he called a looker, for his life. But Don Cristobal had no authority to negotiate. Enough daintiness, he thought, thrusting guilt aside. He was a hard straight man, as the colonel said; the apothecary was a rebel, tax cheat and heretic. Still, he regretted the children’s loss.
He fitted two tubes together and looked through the glass. All blurred. His stomach heaved. He took a deep breath, substituted tubes and tried again. Suddenly a scratch in the leather of one man’s jerkin nearly smacked his eyeball. He jumped back amazed, then looked again. God Almighty, the thing worked! He could make out horizontal green threads, horizontal white threads and red diagonal ones. Red diagonal cross on green and white stripes: the man was an Eleventh Company soldier. He put the device down. Knowing what to look for, he made out with his naked eyes the same colours on all of them.
Then who was their prisoner? He looked through the tubes again, and a section of dusty grey cloak swam into view. The weave was first class. He shifted the tube to the man’s shirt. Its black work collar was equally fine, if soiled. This device was cumbersome, but it had shown him what he needed to see. His company, tainted by corruption, was about to hang a man of consequence. Maybe they were right, but he had to make sure. He thrust the tubes under his sheets, dragged on shirt, hose, boots, and shrugged into his corselet with its new red cross on green and white stripes. Grabbing his letter of appointment, he ran.’
Dear friends and readers, the book is now available. I’m breaking the still-unfolding tale of the Mystery Book to introduce you Latham’s friends, lovers, servants and enemies.
Latham’s fictional recusant sister is his muse, and he is hers. We hear from her in Chapter 1, but their revelatory reunion comes only late in the action:
‘My beloved little brother, his sister Katherine had written, I beseech, demand, disprove your premise if you were amenable to reason, DO NOT LEAVE ENGLAND. There it was: faith, kin, country, colliding. Throw not all away, Edward. You’re full of black bile despite the cheer you paint on the face you turn to the world. It drowns your judgment. Dear brother, take the purge I sent you, then ask the physician to let blood, two quarts. But whatever your course, know I will always love you. Latham was grateful for her unconditional love. But if black bile sludged his judgment, airy blood filled her with self-pleasing vapours, endangering her soul.’
He left England.
Latham wins over this fictional informer early on, his favourite sub-agent:
‘Latham was making progress cultivating the mistress of the royal laundry (at the Louvre Palace). He gave, determined to ask nothing until she clearly wanted to talk. The moment he uncovered his barrels of soap for her grumpy inspection, he understood Alava’s clerk’s titter, and the difficulty in winning her confidence. Homely and middle-aged, her demeanour suggested that if she’d ever invited kisses or fondling, that openness was long gone. Consequently, she was much neglected by men primed to be ever fruitful and multiply, men for whom any breedable female, regardless of station, provoked momentary notice. That kind of man didn’t see women like Hélène; he looked through them. The mistress of the royal laundry knew it. Edward Latham wasn’t like those men.’
This fictional young girl triggers events, but you’ll have to get the book to learn why.
‘Latham went to see Hélène Michaud again, mistress of the royal laundry. To his surprise, her deputy didn’t greet him at the front door. Instead, a pert girl of eight or nine escorted him to her office. Forming a low opinion of the guest’s general understanding, she took it upon herself to teach him the building’s layout.
“Monsieur,” she chattered, “the repair room is here. It’s the most important room. I sew shirts, petticoats there. Next week I go up to reattaching loose jewels on doublets and overskirts.”
A waif and an old woman hauling water buckets were coming the other way. Peremptorily, the girl waved them to stand aside.
“Là, Jeanne, old Isabel, make way for Monsieur Prosperino, Mistress Michaud’s guest.”
Latham laughed. Who was this girl? Undisciplined auburn curls escaped from her embroidered bonnet. She had observant grey eyes and a beanpole chest at odds with a precocious swing of her hips.
“Countess,” he said, with a bow that thrilled her, “is the repair room the most important because you’re in it? What about your mistress’s office?’
The girl frowned, considering, then changed the subject.’
He loses his moorings during his encounter with a fictionalized historical character, LADY BARBARA BLOMBERG, whose help for Mary, Queen of Scots he was seeking. Blomberg was a great singer, mistress of the deceased Emperor Charles V, father of the Spanish King Philip II. In Brussels, Latham was on a stair landing, listening to her rehearse.
‘Her voice was liquid gold pouring from high to low when following the cornet; a string of shimmering diamonds tossed in the air when imitating plucked spinet scales; low with urgency when improvising with the viol de gamba. She made the instruments sound all wood, brass and gut, compared with the vibrating resonance that was her body. Latham’s blood tingled, his own body travelling to very far places.
But she’d had pushed her accompanists too hard. Into this glorious cosmos, foul notes from the spinet, a staggering inability to keep up, a jagged tailing to silence.
“Turd-fingers, muse-murderer, dung-sucker! Get out of my sight. You’re dismissed! Out! Out! Out!” The voice down from the ether: violent, guttural. Pottery breaking, the clang and jangle of metal hitting a keyboard. The door banged open, and a man backed out, clutching his bleeding forehead. A sheepish cornetist and gamba player followed him.
Latham ran upstairs and walked in. He came face to face with a middle-aged woman bent over, face flushed, her chest heaving with incandescent fury.
“Lady Barbara, I am enchanted,” he cried, sweeping off his hat and bowing. Straightening up, he thought: I’m to conduct this suit with my most obliging manners. How do I begin?’