Thursday, October 25, 2012

"A Plague of Lies"

Judith Rock has written on dance, art, and theology for many journals, and has been artist-in-residence and taught and lectured at colleges, seminaries and conferences across the United States and abroad. The Rhetoric of Death, her first novel, was a 2011 Barry Award nominee.

She applied the Page 69 Test to her latest novel, A Plague of Lies, and reported the following:
In A Plague of Lies, p. 69 is a necessary but uneventful transition between the end of one scene which furthers the plot, and the beginning of another important plot scene. The Jesuit delegation to Louis XIV's Versailles has just presented the gift--or bribe--of a saint's relic to the king's second wife, Madame de Maintenon. They're trying to 'sweeten' her with this gift of St. Ursula's little finger, because the royal wife is very angry at Jesuits. She's angry because the king's Jesuit confessor supports the king's refusal to publicly acknowledge the marriage, the reason being that her family is only minor nobility and not royal. The four man delegation has left her reception room and is on its way to dinner at the table of the Duke de La Rochefoucauld, an important courtier and a friend of the angry Madame de Maintenon. The Jesuits follow the long gallery corridor to the Duke's apartement.
...they found the gallery thronged with richly dressed men and women making their way into La Rochefoucauld's rooms. Charles tried not to stare at the women. Tall headdresses, confections of ribbons, lace, and starched linen, waved above discreetly padded puffs of hair and curls like bunches of grapes, and scarves like woven air fluttered on bare shoulders. The men's gold-embroidered waistcoats glittered beneath open black coats, their sticks tapped, and their velvet and wool coat skirts hung nearly to their knees. Precedence--the prescribed order of entrance by rank--was taken, given, and rearranged with narrowed eyes and coldly honeyed words.
The last sentence is a warning of danger beneath the smooth social surface, and begins the new scene. Historical novelists are often criticized for drowning their readers in historical detail. I try to use detail to deepen or change the mood of a scene. And, of course, to help the reader see what the book's characters are seeing. But I also keep in mind that a novel is not--and is not intended to be--a film. The reader needs enough visual detail to be present with characters and events. But half the fun of reading is conjuring the scene for oneself--rather than having it dictated by the camera. That seems especially important to me in these times when we're inundated with screens and so little is left to the imagination. No matter how much detail a historical novelist gives, in the end it's always imagination that lets the reader of a historical novel travel to a past time and live there for the duration of the story.
Learn more about the book and author at Judith Rock's website.

--Marshal Zeringue