Picture This: A Visit With Sandra Gulland

Today’s post by bestselling author, Sandra Gulland | @Sandra_Gulland

We’ve got a copy of Sandra’s new novel, THE SHADOW QUEEN, up for grabs today. See the entry form below for details.

Sandra Gulland

Sandra Gulland

The first stage of writing a novel is exploratory: imagining scenes and characters, imagining the arc of the narrative. Exploring a character, for me, often begins with finding an image. I write biographical historical fiction—my characters are based on real people—so I often have portraits to go by.

However, the main character of my novel The Shadow Queen, Claude des Oeillets (dit Claudette), was part of the theater world before she became lady’s maid to the Sun King’s mistress. I searched for a portrait, but could find nothing. That was understandable, I thought—Claudette was a maid, not nobility—so I put together a picture composite of my own.

Here, from morguefile.com, an excellent site for character browsing, is the image that fit how I imagined Claudette as a scrappy young woman. (Far left, below. It’s a photo of a young man, but Claudette is boyish.)

For Claudette in her later years, at Court, I chose this painting by Rossetti. I was surprised to see how similar the two faces were: the flying brows, the pouty lips. (Second left, below)

And then, years later, came publication. I was enchanted with the cover of The Shadow Queen and tweeted about it. Amazingly, someone sent me a tweet with a link to a portrait of Claudette. (Center, below)

A portrait?

Sandra Gulland Collage

A portrait of my Claudette! In the years I had been writing The Shadow Queen, more had come available on the Net. And then, with another shock, I realied how very much the woman on the cover of The Shadow Queen looked like the actual portrait of Claudette . . .

Plus, she had the same brow, the same pouty lips as in the two images I had collected years before.

Was there an explanation? I checked with Doubleday, but the cover designer had no knowledge of this portrait of Claudette. It remains just a little mystical to me  . . .

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* * *

The Shadow QueenFrom the author of the beloved Josephine B. Trilogy, comes a spellbinding novel inspired by the true story of a young woman who rises from poverty to become confidante to the most powerful, provocative and dangerous woman in the 17th century French court: the mistress of the charismatic Sun King.

1660, Paris

Claudette’s life is like an ever-revolving stage set.  From an impoverished childhood wandering the French countryside with her family’s acting troupe, Claudette finally witnesses her mother’s astonishing rise to stardom in Parisian theaters. Working with playwrights Corneille, Molière and Racine, Claudette’s life is culturally rich, but like all in the theatrical world at the time, she’s socially scorned.

A series of chance encounters gradually pull Claudette into the alluring orbit of Athénaïs de Montespan, mistress to Louis XIV and reigning “Shadow Queen.” Needing someone to safeguard her secrets, Athénaïs offers to hire Claudette as her personal attendant.

Enticed by the promise of riches and respectability, Claudette leaves the world of the theater only to find that court is very much like a stage, with outward shows of loyalty masking more devious intentions. This parallel is not lost on Athénaïs, who fears political enemies are plotting her ruin as young courtesans angle to take the coveted spot in the king’s bed.

Indeed, Claudette’s “reputable” new position is marked by spying, illicit trysts and titanic power struggles. As Athénaïs, becomes ever more desperate to hold onto the King’s favor, innocent love charms move into the realm of deadly Black Magic, and Claudette is forced to consider a move that will put her own life—and the family she loves so dearly—at risk.

Set against the gilded opulence of a newly-constructed Versailles and the War of Theaters, THE SHADOW QUEEN is a seductive, gripping novel about the lure of wealth, the illusion of power, and the increasingly uneasy relationship between two strong-willed women whose actions could shape the future of France.

About Ariel Lawhon

Ariel Lawhon is co-founder of the popular online book club, She Reads, a novelist, blogger, and life-long reader. She lives in the rolling hills outside Nashville, Tennessee with her husband and four young sons (aka The Wild Rumpus). Her novel, THE WIFE THE MAID AND THE MISTRESS, will be published in January 2014 by Doubleday. Ariel believes that Story is the shortest distance to the human heart.

15 Responses to Picture This: A Visit With Sandra Gulland

  1. Rhonda April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for interview book sounds perfect for me.

  2. nancy reynolds April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Loved the interview. They say there is no such thing as coincidences but … I loved the “coincidence” of your images all seeming so very similar. Thanks for the chance to win. The book sounds GREAT.

  3. Paula Dolin April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Sounds great – I love historical fiction.

  4. Susan Gruener April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Love the story of the ‘mystery’ of portrait.

    Please enter me to win this great book! :)

  5. Debbie D April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    What an interesting story about the photos!

  6. Carl April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    That’s a great story, and you’re right, they do look strangely alike. Coincidence, or some kind of mysterious channeling, who can say? Thanks.

  7. Melissa Crytzer Fry April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    This book sounds spellbinding; I noted it when I first saw it on Goodreads. LOVE the research that went into the photos (and that a male figure resonated in the author’s mind, when presented with the photo composites).

    Thanks for the opportunity to win.

  8. Judie April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    The Shadow Queen sounds intreging!

  9. Brooke April 21, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Looking forward to reading this and Mistress of the Sun. thank you for the suggestions!

  10. Bonnie K. April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Great story. It’s cool how the cover and copy of the portrait looked similar. Sounds like a great read.

  11. Beth M April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Very interesting interview and what sounds like a fascinating historical novel

  12. Kathy April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    Historical fiction always intrigued me as it presents elements of an era with great descriptions of the type of clothing, settings and people’s concerns. Interesting that this book has some sort of mysterious printing of the heroine. I’d love to read such a wonderful depiction of the rags to riches tale.

  13. Brenda Klaassen April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    This book sounds like a book I would really enjoy reading. I can’t wait to read it and find out if I can use it for an in-person book discussion.

  14. Denise Duvall April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    After reading the works of Corneille, Molière and Racine in university, this book sounds interesting. The cover is beautiful too. Thank you for the giveaway.

  15. Hallie Sawyer (@Hallie_Sawyer) April 21, 2014 at 10:17 pm #

    I’ve had my eye on this book! I love historical fiction because it gives me a chance to learn something from the past, usually sending me to the internet and digging more into the time period/subject matter. This sounds sooo intriguing! Thanks!

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