Monday, May 14, 2012

Welcome Gev Sweeney to May Movers and Shakers Promotion with her stunning novel "The Scattered Proud"

I live in a tiny cottage in a slightly larger Victorian town at the Jersey Shore. I have a master's degree in communication, worked as a journalist, and actually bought a guinea pig so I could get work editing books about small mammals. The job didn't last, but the guinea pig did. I’ve had four in the past nine years. The current two are Philip Baby-Boar and Baby Auden Baby-Boar, plump cuddlers whose chief joy in life is burrowing through heaps of timothy hay. Sigh. If only I was small enough to join them!

“His words were the echo of loss, and I was the place where that echo would end in an answer …”

Philadelphia, 1793: As yellow fever empties the city, fearful, young Janet Watters lives at the mercy of others, comforted by her secret love for Kid DeWaere, a rector’s son who believes that doing little or nothing to help people would be an abuse of God’s trust in humanity.

Kit’s sometimes-rash acts of service earn him a position as vicar to a covert Episcopal mission in later Revolutionary Paris. It’s a dangerous time to be religious or American in France, which has banned Christianity and is at war with the United States. And it’s a dangerous time for Janet to be reunited with Kit when her father brings her to Paris to work at the mission. Kit’s sense of justice  ̶  and his marriage to a mercurial emigrée  ̶  lead to an illusion that will change the nation and drive Janet from the boy of her dreams to the man of her heart.

Book Review on Amazon and B&N
A tender tale of longing and disappointment. Beautiful!

The only thing I regret about buying this book is that it sat on my 'to read' shelf for as long as it did. From the moment I was introduced to the heroine, Janet Watters, as she looks down from her window upon the coffin filled streets of Philadelphia, I was captivated. The imagery is so crisp, so poetic. The book begins in 1793, when "the yellow fever was emptying Philadelphia with the zeal of a child gouging out a pumpkin." Janet, a mere thirteen at the opening of the story, is painfully aware of her insignificance. At the same time, she is painfully aware of the longing she bears for the young Kit DeWaere, a friend of the family, and a young man several years her senior. Beyond her reach, "Kit DeWaere was a cherished agony," destined for greater things than she could ever aspire to.

One tragedy follows another as we follow our heroine from plague infested Philadelphia to the tumult, terror and chaos of Revolutionary France, where she is, after a long absence, reunited with the now married Kit. No longer a child, Janet has grown into a young woman with her own ideas and aspirations, humble though they may seem. Subtly and by small means, Janet becomes, through trial, heartbreak and experience, and almost without our realising it, a figure of great significance in the lives of those of her acquaintance, the shining light in the lives of those fortunate to be touched by her selflessness and kindness. And yet, as a true heroine ought, she never suspects that this is so.

This is a tender tale of love and longing, of frustration and disappointment, of heartbreaking tragedy and suffering. Of overwhelming joy despite the obstacles that beset us on life's journey. I found this story, and the gorgeousness of its telling, a refuge from the confusion and conflict in my own life.I was sincerely sad to close its final pages.

The Scattered Proud is a beautiful, beautiful book. A tale masterfully told and eloquently written. A gem among modern historical fiction!
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 The story of the story:
The Scattered Proud isn’t a story as much as it is the Dream That Wouldn’t Die   ̶  but that wouldn’t keep its original form, either. It grew along with me, starting on the night of April 15, 1986. I was with friends in the Honey Tree tavern in the Gramercy Park section of New York City when the TV over the bar blared news about the United States Air Force bombing Libya in retaliation for Libyan terrorists’ bombing of a discotheque in West Berlin. At the time, I’d been writing a historical novel about Americans in Paris during the Russian invasion of 1813, but when I heard about Libya, I thought things were going to trend toward the Middle East; I’d have a better chance of getting published if the book were about something in that part of the world. So I started writing The Lessons of Darkness, a story about a young American girl whose father, a Byron-like adventurer, disappears in Egypt during the French expedition of 1798. She falls in with an Italian opera troupe in Paris and is befriended by a young composer who defies the French government’s ban against Roman Catholicism by writing a rescue opera about the Egyptian campaign and setting the Holy Wednesday service of Tenebrae, the Lessons of Darkness, within the score. The agent who read the MS said she regretted the market wasn’t right for historicals but kindly predicted the story would one day be published.
Thinking she meant the MS wasn’t good enough for publication, I gave up and put the thing aside. But the setting of the tale  ̶  post-Revolutionary Paris and the rise of Napoleon  ̶  stayed with me, along with several character names, if not the characters in their original form. For example, Merit, the teenage heroine of The Lessons of Darkness, became Merit, Malachi’s mother, in The Scattered Proud. And while the fate and hubris of Malachi, the young composer of The Lessons of Darkness, remained unchanged, for The Scattered Proud he became a life-loving but dependent, hormone-driven teen instead of a romantic hero. The only character from The Lessons of Darkness who joined The Scattered Proud intact was Pierre DuCray, the Bonpartist army surgeon whose name is a spoof on the alias “Pierre DuCré,” used on one occasion by French composer Hector Berlioz.
Characters weren’t all that changed in The Scattered Proud. I looked at the original elements of The Lessons of Darkness and felt I could do better. I don’t remember why, but I thought the use of music was a tired device. By the time I took yet another look at The Lessons of Darkness in 1998, I’d been involved with living history and re-enactment groups as a publicist-participant. I’d been immersed in the clothing, manners and minutiae of life between 1775 and 1865, and I’d also spent hours reading bound original volumes of the Moniteur universel, the official government newspaper of Revolutionary and early Napoleonic France. I took everything I knew about France and America in the late 18th century and combined historical details into something that had more depth than what I had come to regard as a petty diversion based on obscure classical music. The vehicle behind the conflict went from music to the arts of war and all that the phrase suggests, and the tale was told in third-person, from multiple points of view. Still, I wasn’t happy with the story. I couldn’t decide whose story I wanted it to be. I doubted my voice, my honesty, my authority.

I suppose, actually, that for the longest time, the story that became The Scattered Proud simply wasn’t ready to be told until two things happened: In December 2005 I survived an “ohmygod-I’m-going-to-die” kind of car crash. A few months later, I was on the message boards of a major romance author. The first gave me a sense of urgency, while the second let me write my heart out and reap surprisingly lovely feedback and encouragement from other site members. I’d always had a block about writing romance and always preferred the harsher realities of life where matters of the heart are concerned. I wanted to make The Lessons of Darkness “grow up” into the kind of life-affirming, soul-searching, no-easy-answers classic that people didn’t write any more. I knew that whoever the hero of that particular tale was or would become must be a tragic hero, possessed of that one, fatal flaw that manages to change everyone’s life, as well as his own. He had to earn Napoleon’s climactic observation: “From the sublime to the ridiculous is only a step. It looks to me like somebody stumbled,” lines that came at roughly the same place in The Lessons of Darkness. I managed to find that human-romantic ideal in a figure not even I expected: a gentle young vicar whose faith in his abilities was founded in a faith that would prove as damning as it was sustaining. I called him Kit DeWaere, and when he passed inspection by the admiring ladies on that romance writer’s message board, I gave the story its own site, started blogging chapters, and began to suspect that, after more than two decades, the story I first sensed amid breaking news in a smoky pub in Gramercy Park just might come to something after all.

But I didn’t come easily to the tale’s first-person narrative. The snippets I presented on the romance writer’s site were initially in third person. I’d always rebelled at first person. Thought it vain. Self-centered. Like running around the neighborhood without a stitch of clothing. People would see too much of me, especially bits I didn’t want to be seen. I yielded to first person only when I realized how much better the story worked as a memoir and that it’s not me that the readers are seeing. They’re seeing a woman growing up in love with a man beyond her reach. It’s just that I’m not sure her name’s not really Gev

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1 comment:

  1. A fascinating book by a great writer. The story behind the story is particularly interesting. Hope, Gev, you still have that original book, The Lessons of Darkness – it sounds worth reading, as well as the book, The Scattered Proud, which eventually came from it.


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