Former Fairfielder James Tipton visits with Monica and Caroline about his recently published historical novel. “Annette Vallon: A Novel of the French Revoluion,” is based on the life of William Wordsworth’s French lover.
What about this woman, a footnote in literary history, inspired 15 years of research and writing? Listen in to find out
1:27 Annette Vallon by James Tipton.
4:52 James writes from a woman’s point of view.
6:36 Writing historical fiction, with some plot parameters.
8:10 The “Reign of Terror”.
11:23 The “Committee of Safety”, originally the “Committee of Survelance”, is classic double- speak.
15:00 American Revolution vs. French Revolution
16:00 James spends 15 years writing the story of Annette Vallon.
19:50 The relationship between Annette Vallon and William Wordsworth.
23:00 The hardest chapters to write.
24:20 “The Finale of Death is only for the living”.
26:28 Annette comes into resistance work.
27:23 James balances fact with fiction.
33:01 The research process.
37:59 A reading from Annette Vallon.
49:56 Reviews and publicity
52:09 James finds his publisher.
56:41 Quote from Caroline
TRANSCRIPT OF HIGHLIGHTS
Caroline: You did a good job writing from a woman’s point of view.
Monica: Yea, how did you do that?
James: It’s part of the writers job, that he’s got to think about other points of view. I actually started writing it in the third preson and it just didn’t happen, didn’t work, so I thought this has got to be her story. It’s her untold story and so it’s got to be in her voice. There’s this tradition of what’s called the persona where the writer adopts a voice, adopts a character and speaks in that….So I took on her voice, and once I kind of got into her voice, it wasn’t hard to get back to it as I was continuing the novel. But I also think there is a lot of universals in perception and emotion for men and women. So, I was also drawing on that. It was tricky sometimes. I had to keep reminding myself, “OK, she has a dress, she’s riding side saddle,” you know. Sometimes I felt like Huck Finn at the end of his narritive when he says, “If I’d have knowd what a trouble it was to make a book, I wouldn’t have tackled it.”
Caroline: When he came back and he was of course involved with a woman in England, I was very interested that Annette never challenged him or admonished him about that. She realized that he was going to go back to England and be with her and she was going to loose him. She was quite a woman.
James: Well, I think she had to be very strong inside. She had to accept the reality that, here’s a man who had now his own life in the north of England and the reality of it was, he couldn’t come to France because they knew the war was going to resume, and they were just having this brief peace. And she was also attached to her work. You know, her resistance work in France. And so she wasn’t really going to go there. And they both kind of developed their own lives in those nine years. And I think it was very hard for her also because for nine years she had this idea they were somehow going to get together. And she had to be strong inside and let that go, and not accuse him, understanding that well he did have to develop his life… It was a very hard chapter to write, a couple chapters, because I didn’t want him to come off as the bad buy. It was very easy to have him to be the callous male that throws her away, and feminists have kind of seen him like that. But I wanted them both to come off as sympathetic, or at least for the reader to understand where he was coming from. So that was hard, and he made references to some poems that he wrote about a character that — no one knows who this character is called Lucy. Critics have said different things and biographers have said different things. I thought, why not have Lucy also maybe referred to. Lucy is this strange character who dies in his poems. And my feeling was, a writer also has to write from his life and draw from his subconscious and maybe he was writing about her when Lucy was dying, because he had to, in effect, kill Annette inside himself to move on. So psychologically that made sense to me. The symbols may shift so sometimes Lucy may be something else but in some of the poems that’s what he’s dealing with. So he’s explaining that to her and I think she’s understanding, so that they can both move on in their lives.
Caroline: Speaking of death, there’s a passage there about “The Lesson of the Fog”, about her father’s death. You can’t see the person any more. But it’s like the fog covering the river. You know the river is still there.
James: You know, writers can cheat a little bit. I cheated on that reference because when my son was down when I was writing that, he and I were talking about the fog, and we had just moved back to Berkley, and of course there is fog in the San Fransisco Bay and I was saying, “Look, you know, you can’t see the bay, but you know it’s there.” … We were having this conversation and I was writing that afternoon and using that…with the fog as a metaphor for death, and you can’t see the person after death but it doesn’t mean they’re not still there in some way. And then my son comes into my room when I’m writing. He says “Dad, is death when you can’t see the person any more?” I went “Woah!” I just typed that right in. You know, kids say the coolest things sometimes. Annette has a kind of revelation there. At the end of that chapter she says something like “The finale of death is only for the living.” That’s what helps her deal with her father’s death.
Caroline: Annette was close to her sister, and saw that her sister and her family got safely to England.
James: Yes, that’s one of the first things that kind of sucks her into the resistance work. Joseph Campbell talks about heros, and how some heros go out consciously, on purpose, wanting to go out and do some heroic act, but most heros are just kind of pulled into it. She wants to help her brother-in-law escape from prison, and then she needs to help her brother-in-law’s family escape from France, and that just kind of pulls her into it. In Celtic myths and in the Ramayana Epic, the hero was lead into the adventure by following a golden deer into the forrest, and then the golden deer turns into something else. So Annette is trying to help her family and she kind of gets pulled into all this.
Monica: Now, is this all historically accurate, or are these things that you imagined about her?
James: Well, I had to make up stories based on the research I did on the Revolution, on the Reign of Terror, and on the counter –revolution.
Monica: How did you find your publisher? Harper-Collins is a premier publisher. How were you able to do that?
James: Well, I guess I had some luck. I had an agent who was sending it out, but this agent and I disagreed. She changed the name, and she cut off the first several chapters. And she had sent it around and it was with an editor at Harper-Collins who passed on it, but who sent a very long letter back to the agent and said to the agent [asking her to] send this letter back to the author, and it was about how much she liked it. How she didn’t like a few things and one of the things she didn’t like was the title. Well, this agent tried some other places and it didn’t work, so I broke up with the agent and then I approached the editor on my own. This is where the tricky luck part comes in. Because I had this letter from her, from the agent, I had her personal email address on this letter. So, I just emailed her personally and said “You might remember this novel from nine months ago. What happened was that my original title got taken away and there were a lot of chapters that this agent took off, and I would like to show you what it originally was.” And she emailed me back immediately and said, “I remember that novel very well. Send the novel to me the way you originally had it.” So I did that and she said that she liked it and wanted to buy it. So that’s how I got in with Harper-Collins. But it was on my own.
Caroline: It’s interesting that she could remember that long ago. It must have really impressed her. Because nine months is a long time.
James: Yeah, you know they have to read a lot. So, yes, I was very happy that she remembered it…
Monica: So, James, are you working on another novel now?
James: I have two projects I’m working on. One is a collection of short stories. Short stories are wonderful, I tell you, to write, because I can write them in one afternoon and revise it the next day, and I’m not years older when I finish it!