Tag Archives: THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER

Write What You Know About

SUBJECT AND SETTING

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The interior of Berryman United Methodist in Richmond inspired the fictional Methodist church in Faifax.

The easiest subject to write about is the one you know the most about.   I knew before I wrote the first sentence of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER that the book would feature a Methodist minister, his family, and his ward.  My dad was a Methodist minister, so I’m familiar with the underpinings of the United Methodist Church. As for wards, I had read about wards and guardians in novels, but never knew any in real life.  Like Augusta Evans Wilson wrote [in VASHTI]: “The only wards I ever knew happened to be fictitious characters.”

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Fairfax Court House built in 1800

The setting of a novel is like a frame around a portrait.  If the frame is too dark or too light and if it doesn’t complement the colors in the portrait, it will take away from the picture.

I wanted a nostalgic setting that enhanced the old-fashioned romance I had in mind.  I chose the City of Fairfax, not only because it is historic but because I lived nearby and spent many hours walking through the town and researching its role in the Civil War.  History is one of my favorite subjects and the City of Fairfax fit the bill.  I deliberately put the parsonage right in the middle of “Old Town” Fairfax City near the scene of “Mosby’s Midnight Raid.”

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The Moore House in Fairfax

The fictional parsonage was a conglomeration of houses I had written up when I had a real estate column in THE CONNECTION, a local paper in Northern Virginia.  Using the best features of some of the houses I reviewed, I created the interior; but the exterior of the parsonage was solely inspired by the antebellum Moore House, which is behind Truro Anglican Church and across the street from what used to be the Black-eyed Pea Restaurant.

copy-005956-r1-23-241-e1387249318579.jpgWhile writing the novel,  I got permission to tour the Moore House, which housed a business at the time.  I was delighted to see that the house has two staircases just like the fictional parsonage.  The Moore house has thirteen gables as well, so I created a parsonage with thirteen gables.

Thirteen gables added a nice touch to the modern gothic theme I was developing, not to mention the secret room on the third floor hidden behind on
e of the gables.

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When Do Books Need Subtitles?

Before choosing a title for your book, you might want to do an Internet search on the title you have in mind.  Your title may or may not be unique.  Although titles are not copyrighted, you need to make sure that your book isn’t confused with another by the same or similar name.

To be honest, I never thought to “google” the title of my novel.  I knew from the beginning that it would be “The Prince in the Tower.”  I chose the title before (or soon after) I started writing. The title is a reference to the main character, a fictional preacher who happens to be a John Gilbert look-alike.

I got the idea for the title after reading John Gilbert’s biography Dark Star: The Untold Story of the Meteoric Rise and Fall of Legendary Silent Screen Star John Gilbert..  Leatrice Gilbert Fountain, the author, refers to her father as “the prince in the tower” because he lived on Tower Road in Hollywood.

Even after I finished writing “The Prince in the Tower” and had it formatted for Kindle, I still didn’t think to “google” the title.  I had already chosen the subtitle, “A Modern Gothic Romance.”  And it’s a good thing I did.

Once the book was published, I noticed the title was in no way unique.  In fact, “the prince in the tower” or “the princes in the tower” brings to mind the hapless nephews of Richard III.  Check out “The Prince in the Tower” on Amazon.com, and you’ll see what I mean.

Not only did I choose an overused title, but the book cover features the Tower of London where the nephews were  imprisoned.

Fortunately, my subtitle sets the book apart from books under the same heading.  I can even change the subtitle as long I use a different ISBN. Without the subtitle, you can’t be sure if a book like mine is fiction, non-fiction, or historical fiction.

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“The Prince in the Tower” was inspired by him, not them.

“Oxalis” as a Literary Motif

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One of my favorite flowers is oxalis.  I never knew the flower existed until I read about it  in ST. ELMO by Augusta Jane Evans.  In the following paragraph, “Edna Earl” sees the flower and associates it with “St. Elmo Murray,” the man she is trying to resist.

Edna bent over her flowers, and recognizing many favorites that recalled the hothouse at Le Bocage, her eyes filled with tears, and she hastily put her lips to the snowy cups of an oxalis.  How often she had seen just such fragile petals nestling in the buttonhole of Mr. Murray’s coat.  (Page 290, ST. ELMO).

I was thinking about that and other passages in ST. ELMO  when i wrote the following scene between “Effie Beller” and “Gideon Baldwin” on page 69 and 70 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“When are you fixing to come home?”

“In a few days.”

“Oh.”  Effie tried to hide her disappointment.  “I hope you’ll have plenty of sunshine at the beach.”

“And delay my return?”

They were standing in the sun room, and he was preparing to leave through the back door.  Impulsively she snatched a spray of oxalis from a ceramic pot and held it up to his lapel.

“What are you doing?”

“I’d like to put some flowers in your buttonhole if you don’t mind.”

“Why?”

“Because you remind me of someone.”

“Who?”

“St. Elmo.”

“I’m not a saint.”

“Neither was he.”  With trembling fingers, she slipped the posy into his buttonhole and started to walk away, but he seized her arm and turned her around.

I brought oxalis into the story again when “Effie’s” antipathy for “Rev. Baldwin” was near its peak:

He crossed the room to his mother’s dresser and returned with a handful of tissues.

As she dried her eyes, she heard him say in a voice unaccountably sweet, “I often forget  how sensitive you are.  You remind me of that dainty flower you gave me when I was leaving for Conference.  What was it?”

“Oxalis.”

“So incredibly small, so easily crushed.  Sometimes you wilt before my eyes and make me wonder what I have said or done to cause it.”  He paused for a moment, waiting for her to compose herself, and added, “Effie Belle.  Despite your belief to the contrary, I am not entirely the ogre conceived in your imagination, and If I can help you in any way–“

Every flower has a special meaning–or so I thought.  I based this belief on a book called “The Poetry of Flowers.” i was sure I could look up oxalis and find a romantic meaning.   However, the flower is not even mentioned in the book.

Some refer to oxalis simply as “clover” or “a creeping weed,” hardly a romantic description of my hallowed plant. Finally, I learned that oxalis is a member of the wood sorrel family.  Wood Sorrel means “Joy” and “maternal tenderness,” and that is an accurate description of the role that oxalis plays in THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER..

Often referred to as “shamrock,” oxalis is easy to find this time of year.  I found two different types of oxalis in a St. Patrick’s Day display at the grocery store.  My favorite is “snowy” oxalis, but you can also find oxalis with purple leaves and lavender flowers or with green leaves and pink flowers.

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Finding Inspiration in “The Merry Widow Waltz”

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THE MERRY WIDOW (MGM, 1925), starring John Gilbert and Mae Murray, inspired the following scene between “Effie Butler” and her guardian, “Reverend Gideon Baldwin,” in Chapter 17 of THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.

“So tell me about the Confederate ball.”

“Well . . . from what I understand, most of the men are re-enactors, so they’ll be wearing Confederate uniforms, and most of the ladies will be dressed like me.  A band will play period pieces that we can dance to.”

“Can you waltz?”

“No, but I wish I could.”

“What time is your date?”

“Seven-thirty.”

“Good.  I’ll teach you.”

He directed her to the center of the room and rearranged the furniture, clearing space beneath the chandelier.  Then he turned the CD player on and as “The Merry Widow Waltz” began to play, bowed before her.  “May I have this waltz?”

His kingly manner surprised her as she drifted into his arms and waited for him to begin.  Effie tried to concentrate on the steps he was teaching her, but the scent of his aftershave and the touch of his hands were distracting.  In attempting to follow his lead, she tripped over his foot. He laughed, so did she, and they resumed waltzing.

“Where did you learn to waltz, Mr. Baldwin?”

“In high school and my name is Gideon.”  He smiled, revealing a perfect set of teeth, and Effie felt the full force of his magnetism.

Every Writer Needs Inspiration

 CREATE AN ATMOSPHERE CONDUCIVE TO WRITING

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Writing fiction begins with setting the stage.  The props are photographs, scented candles, and whatever-it-takes to minimize daily distractions and whisk you away to never-never land.

When I was writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I lit a rose-scented candle and kept a photo of my favorite actor in front of me, but I needed more.  So I added a sound track.  A novel, like a movie, needs a sound track, although no one will hear it but the writer. 

Steven Curtis Chapman, 4 Him, Jars of Clay, Burt Bacharach, Sting, and many other composers contributed to the soundtrack of my imaginary “film.”  Songs like “Call Me Irresponsible,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “The Look of Love,” “Prologue,” “Blind,” and “Head Over Heels” inspired many scenes.

Props and music help, but nothing inspires me like visiting the places I want to write about.

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Finding Inspiration in Quotes

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My favorite novel is ST. Elmo, by Augusta Evans Wilson (1835-1909). The book inspired me to write THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER.  Although my book is not a ST. ELMO remake, the similarities are not coincidental.

To pay homage to Augusta Evans Wilson and her best-selling novel, I introduced ten of my thirty-four chapters with a quote from ST. ELMO.  They are as follows:

“He is a rude, blasphemous, wicked man,” said Mr. Hunt as Edna reentered the shop.

“That passage leads to my son’s apartments, and he dislikes noise or intrusion.”

The expression with which Mr. Murray regarded Estelle reminded Edna of the account given by a traveler of the playful mood of a lion, who, having devoured one gazelle, kept his paw on another, and, amid occasional growls, teased and toyed with his victim.

She picked up from the spot where he had thrown his shawl a handsome morocco-bound pocket copy of Dante, and opening it to discover the name of the owner, she saw written on the fly-leaf in a bold and beautiful hand, “S.E.M.”

God help me to resist that man’s wicked magnetism!

“I go like Ruth, gleaning in the great fields of literature.”

“Mrs. Powell received a letter from a wealthy friend in New York who desires to secure a governess for her young children.”

“If she ever marries, it will not be from gratitude or devotion, but because she learned to love, almost against her will, some strong, vigorous thinker, some man whose will and intellect master hers, who compels her heart’s homage, and without whose society she cannot persuade herself to live.”

He strained her to him and pressed his lips twice to hers, then the carriage stopped at the railroad station.

“Edna, my shadow has fallen across your heart, and I am not afraid that you will forget me.”

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Creating a Fictional Landmark

The church loomed before her like some aged monument preserving the memory of its founders.  Clutching vines of ivy encrusted the walls and  scaled the towering steeple, as if to hold the bricks in place and keep them from crumbling.  Like sentinels, a pair of massive, gnarled oaks guarded the entrance.

As Effie took the key out of her pocket, she recalled Mrs.  Baldwin saying, “I hope you’re not superstitious.  Providence is one of the oldest churches in Fairfax County.  It predates the Civil War.  Some say it’s haunted.  Can you imagine calling a church haunted?”

Timidly she unlocked the door and peered into the sanctuary, deluged with light from stained glass Palladian windows.  Each was part of a series depicting the life of Christ from the Annunciation to the Resurrection.  She walked down the center aisle, carpeted in red, towards the cross that loomed over the choir loft and dropped to her knees at the altar.  Surrounded by all the trappings of spirituality, she prayed and pictured the throne of God, the “sea of glass,” the cherubim, and “the four and twenty elders” clothed in white.

But the vision was short-lived.  Like a clap of thunder, the specter of doubt jarred her with a question:  What if her circumstances were accidental, not providential?  What if coming to Fairfax was a mistake?  She waved the notion aside and seated herself at the organ. 

A careful examination of the instrument found it nearly identical to the one she’d practiced her lessons on in Columbus.  “What harm is there in playing the organ?” she asked aloud.  Her words hung in the air, unanswered, undisputed, and soon “Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” resounded throughout the sanctuary. 

She poured herself into the composition, mindless of time and place, until a rapping sound arrested her attention.  Her eyes scanned the church before resting upon a stained glass window depicting the Crucifixion.  Like a metronome, a branch was tapping the pane. 

As she resumed playing, the melancholy fugue fired her imagination, bringing “The Phantom of the Opera” to mind.  A mental picture of Lon Chaney lurking behind one of the pews prompted the feeling that someone was watching her.  To counter the thought, she abandoned the organ for the piano and played a hardy rendition of “Oh Happy Day.”  But halfway through the song, a scraping sound sliced the air, immobilizing her fingers.

Excerpt from THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER (pages 7 and 8).

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St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

St. Francis Methodist, Mobile, AL

When I started writing THE PRINCE IN THE TOWER, I wanted to give the story a familiar setting with historical landmarks.  I chose the City of Fairfax, one of my favorite stomping grounds.  Most of the landmarks mentioned in the novel are real, but Providence United Methodist Church is fictional.

The name “Providence” is not a coincidence.  Not only does it mean God’s will, but prior to 1859, the City of Fairfax was known as the village of Providence.

My description of Providence Methodist was partly inspired by the architecture of Berryman United  Methodist  in Richmond.  Truro Anglican Church in the heart of the City of Fairfax influenced me also.