Atop The Ramparts at Château Royal d’Amboise

Amidst all of the revelations brought about by my trip to the Loire Valley, there were some lovely scenes that simply stole my breath.

The grounds of Château Royal d’Amboise near the hunting lodge proved simple for the most part.

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It was, however, the ramparts which provoked majestic ooooos and ahhhhhhs.

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One of the most remarkable qualities of the royal residence is only about a fifth of what it once remains intact. Imagine what it must have been like, its towering presence over Amboise and the Loire River, five-hundred years ago.

I like to imagine that da Vinci and Melzi sat in a tower long the victim of time and treachery painting elegant women with the Loire in the background.

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Meanwhile, the tiny town of Amboise bustles below:

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La Gioconda

“Is this the line for the Mona Lisa?” the older woman behind me asked as her husband moved up and down the snaking procession of people asking anyone who looked like an official Louvre employee if they’d actually made it to their destination.

There we stood, eyes alighting upon the gorgeous glass Pyramide du Louvre that is the iconic “You are here” sign for the magnificent museum. It was 8:52 a.m. and the line tripled, then quadrupled, then trickled well past the initial security screen and out into the rainy morning.

We had arrived, nearly ten minutes early in fact, for our 9 a.m. appointment. We’d done everything in our power to ensure such a meeting took place—bought our tickets in advance, made reservations online, left nothing to chance.

However, I. M. Pei’s architectural wonder could not convince those of us who had another sort of iconic masterpiece in mind that we’d not screwed this all up and would be stuck in a line that led to, well, not what we came to see.

It turned out that EVERYONE was in line for a visit with La Gioconda, and we’d totally done the right thing. Those of us with advance tickets and reservations for the very first slot of the day trotted right through, up the stairs, up more stairs, and then some more, and one more flight just to make sure.

The museum docent that I stopped to talk to at the top of the stairs said that in half an hour those stairs would be packed with people waiting, waiting, waiting. Some might wait for three hours for a glimpse at the beauty beyond the doorway.

So, I stopped talking and scurried toward the magnificent Galerie Médicis where she stood, glassed-in, amongst some of the most spectacular paintings in the history of art.

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Dwarfed by the size and absolute divinity of the 24-panel Marie de’ Medici Cycle painted by Rubens 400 years ago, there she sat, roped off, barely visible. Visitors, fifty or so at a time, were let past the ropes that kept them penned back from her as well.

With that, the stopwatch began.

One minute.

That was all the time you had in her presence.

Time enough to click a selfie, take a picture or two, and then—poof—all the anticipation and work put in to stand even in her vicinity was over.

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It was the most magnificent moment of my life.

No woman on this Earth is more mysterious and sought-after than the Mona Lisa. From obscurity to utter obsession, the world has latched itself upon this simple portrait. Everyone seems willing to speculate on her identity and nobody really knows who she is.

I spent far more time with her in other places—hours and hours at Clos Lucé and in da Vinci’s gardens at Amboise.

However, that one minute proved one thing to me—that this glorious goddess with whom women crave a moment and men desire with the greatest of passion is a vessel for immeasurable power.

While men wage war on the Earth, she conquers the mind. Her territory, her imperialism, lies within.

And so, Woman On The Wall seeks to explore the true identity of La Gioconda, this woman who has inexplicably captured our hearts, as she watches over the world.

 

A Journey Without Expectations

I’d tried desperately to curb my urges, yet preparation for France owned me.

My kids made it clear they wanted no more of this level of obsession.

“All you think about, all you talk about is France, mom,” my oldest daughter kept saying, deservedly irritated that she got little of my focus.  “What are you going to do when you don’t have France anymore?”

“That’s not possible,” I would always reply.

Really, though, I worried.

For three months, I’d immersed myself in planning and research for the novel research to come. I spent three hours a day learning French, surfed French websites, made appointments with French historians, booked tours, packed twelve times, read every book I could. With two weeks to cram it all in, I had to make sure my focus proved laser-sharp, and I wouldn’t walk away from this experience wishing I’d gone and done something different.

I literally planned every moment of every day. Error, jet lag, language barrier, time—none could be a factor. I had sworn off the need to account for any of them.

Ken said I was the Fort Knox of travel planning. Everything right down to what would happen if I caught a cold had a solution in place or a detailed map and itinerary attached to it.

Then, the day before I left, in the middle of working on Woman On The Wall this popped up. Just a little note. Nothing profound. Nothing more than a reminder sliding in while I pounded away at the story of Elijah, the main character:

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It hit me like a brick. What if no moment I’d so carefully mapped out worked out the way I planned? What if I went to France and found nothing? Or something totally different? Or hated it? Or everything went sideways on the first day and the rest of the trip was garbage? What if I couldn’t keep up with my schedule? What if I missed this or that? What would I possibly do?

This was the first solo research trip of my life, and I’d left no room in it to just experience anything, to see where a lead took me, or listen to the wind and follow it.

I could freak out, unable to control it all. Or, I told myself after recovering from the icky, cold sweat I broke into, I could go without any expectations and have faith that all of the work I put in to get there would lead me to experience France in a way in which stories simply blossomed, taking shape without being forced.

Hmmmm.

I promptly dumped my rigid itinerary in the trash, marked the few things that I could not miss, and hopped on the plane with the mindset that anything I faced in those next 14 days would be transformative.

I’ve tried to control nearly everything my whole life. It was time to just experience it all.

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From that moment, I swear it was like the universe offered up its nod of approval, jacked me into the energy of place, and set me on a path to discovery that even I could never have imagined.

France took me in, opened its soul for me to be a part of, and left me a changed woman.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting the tales of magick, time travel, serendipity, and the great confluence of modern-day life alongside that of the Renaissance which defined my French sojourn, deeply reshaped the story being told in Woman On The Wall, and brought me to a place at the edge of the veil where I found far more than details for my novel.

I look forward to sharing this experience with all of you.

 

 

The Romance of the Epistolary Novel

I’ve made a huge dent in The Woman On The Wall this week, finally hitting my flow in the balance between the modern-day timeline and the historic epistolary component.

Incorporating the fictitious journals and letters of Francesco Melzi and determining their role in the storytelling process has, to be honest, posed the biggest dilemma for me. How I approached them would determine the entire tone of the novel.

Would it be a thriller?

Would it be a historical drama?

I went with a love story full of magical realism as our adoration of the Monda Lisa is nothing short of a torrid romance.

To drive this level of intoxication, mystery, and obsession, I turned to Griffin & Sabine this afternoon. Nick Bantock may qualify as the grand master of epistolary storytelling with his series, leading us through the mysterious connection between two unlikely lovers.

I’ve made myself swoon. 😉

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Dreaming of France

This year marks the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s birth. In the last half a millennia, there is hardly another human who has seen as much praise heaped upon him. To say his body of work is admirable is a mild statement.

So, when I set my sights on writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa, I knew I could not miss a chance to travel to France this year to take in all of the fanfare.

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For the last month, I’ve been cruising websites and consulting my lovely friend Celia who is a fabulous travel agent about this journey of a lifetime.

At first, I thought I might take my oldest daughter on the adventure. In the end, though, it looks like I will be traveling solo, and I’ve never been more excited.

I’ve busted out the Duolingo to make sure I can communicate with ease.  Phrasebooks and maps are starting to pile up as well.

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I’ve pulled out my Kate Mosse collection to re-read for inspiration.

 

IMG_1833-minOf course, I will be diving deep into the history, preservation, and stories surrounding Mona Lisa. A trip to the Louvre is definitely in the mix.

I’m most looking forward to a week in Amboise, France—especially Clos Lucé where da Vinci spent his final years.

Amboise is my kind of vacation town—a local open-air market for food, quaint house vacation rentals, the ability to walk everywhere, and evenings along the Loire River.

Of course, Chateau Amboise and the history of that magnificent place makes me swoon.

 

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Chateau Amboise

Did You Know The Mona Lisa Has A Twin?

It’s true, the Mona Lisa has a twin who lives in Spain.

The Prado in Madrid has been home to what many considered a knock-off for years.

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Until it came down for restoration a few years ago, no one even knew that there was scenery behind a layer of black paint.

Now, it turns out M.L. has a sister.

Or, is there something even more interesting going on?

Learn more about this twinning HERE

I have my theories about how it’s possible that two of these beauties exist. Time to go finish what may be like the twentieth book on the Mona Lisa that I have read since I started researching her for Woman On The Wall.

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My plan is to go hang out with her in person this Fall on a solo research trip—first stop, Paris. After that,  I’m headed for the bucolic hills of Amboise to hang with da Vinci himself and see if I can discover some of my own answers about our La Gioconda.

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Day 20 – In The Writer’s Studio

More research. Where does it all get stored? (obvs, not my brain. That would be dangerous.)

First stop, Pinterest.

Go peek inside my Pinterest boards at https://www.pinterest.ca/robinmrivers/boards/

Watch the video on Insta. Be sure to like and comment. Tell me what you want to know about the writing process.

 

Day 19 – In The Writer’s Studio

When you procrastinate all day and still have to put the time in: