Category Archives: Writing Links

The Man Writing Links

Finding Napoleon in St Petersburg, Florida

 Salvador Dali Museum, St Petersburg, Florida

Napoleon as First Consul, Unknown Artist, MFA, St Petersburg FLThis past weekend I attended the Historical Novel Society’s annual convention (more on that later) in St Petersburg, Florida. For a city of 250,000 residents, St Petersburg has a surprising trove of art museums, including the Salvador Dali Museum shown in the photo above.

Of course I was on the lookout for Napoleon. Sure enough, in the Museum of Fine Arts, I found this early 1800s bust of him as First Consul. It’s a somewhat commonplace piece by an unknown artist who modeled it after work by the artist Joseph Chinard who in turn was influenced by the Italian sculptor Antonio Canova. Personally, I prefer Canova’s work because it exudes the power and determination of its subject. Both busts are fine examples of Napoleon’s desire to be portrayed as a Roman hero. 

But judge for yourself. Here’s a photo I took two years ago, in the Chateau de Malmaison, of Canova’s bust of Napoleon: 


Napoleon bust by Antonio Canova at Malmaison

Writing Links

A Great Literary Agent for Finding Napoleon

I’m thrilled to announce that I’ve signed with a terrific and talented literary agent, Russell Galen of Scovil Galen Ghosh, to represent my Napoleon novel. Russ, who bills himself as the only person he “knows of who grew up wanting to be a literary agent,” represents an amazing group of authors, including many New York Times Bestsellers.

Russell Galen, Literary Agent extraordinaireI started out searching for an agent with experience in historical fiction. I ended up with much more.  Russ’s list goes on and on beginning with his early career success with The Mists of Avalon, a tale of King Arthur’s court told from the women’s perspective, that has sold over twenty million copies.  It continues with Diana Gabaldon’s remarkable Outlander series, James Rollins’ thrillers, and Cory Doctorow’s science fiction. And as much as I love his fiction selections, I’m equally attracted to his many non-fiction books on Nature and science topics.

As I told Russ in our initial conversation, I think we’ll be compatible partners because if I were a literary agent, I’d want my list to look just like the one he developed. I’m incredibly pleased that he chose to represent me. So wish Russ (and me) success in placing my manuscript with a great publisher.

Saint Helena The Man Writing Links

Anniversary of Napoleon Bonaparte’s Death

Longwood Reception Room Where Napoleon Died 

On May 5, 1821, Napoleon Bonaparte died in this room in exile on St Helena Island.

Two years ago, on May 5, 2011, I was in Cape Town, South Africa, on my way to St Helena to do research for my novel.

Margaret at Groot Constantia May 5, 2011 Toasting the EmperorTo commemorate the anniversary of the Emperor’s death, my husband and I visited Groot Constantia, the still-operational vineyard that supplied the Emperor’s wine during his exile. This evening we’ll drink a toast with some of his favorite Grand Constance wine that we brought back to the United States with us.

The Emperor has been dead for 192 years, yet he has been a constant companion to me as I write my novel from his point of view. So, today, a part of me mourns his death while another part of me says Come on. Really?

If you’re not a writer, if you don’t cry over sad books, if you’re not a Napoleon enthusiast, that may sound odd to you. Chalk it up to the wonders of human imagination.

Writing Links

Best Fiction Award San Francisco Writers Conference

I’m thrilled to announce that my Napoleon novel won the Best Fiction Award at the San Francisco Writers Conference. I’d submitted the first twenty-five pages of my manuscript several weeks ago and knew it had placed as a top ten finalist. It was a wonderful surprise to have it chosen as winner.

This past weekend the tenth annual conference attracted hundreds of writers, literary agents, editors, and publishing professionals. It was a non-stop, energy-filled event. In addition to meeting potential agents for my novel, I attended seminars on the writing craft, the publishing industry, and book marketing.

Keynote speakers (shown below) included R.L. Stine of Goosebumps fame with over 300,000,000 (!) books sold; Guy Kawasaki, an Apple Fellow, venture capitalist and self-published author; and Anne Perry, best-selling author of two historical detective series with over 26,000,000 books sold. Quite a line-up.

A big thank you to the contest judges and convention organizers!


The Man Writing Links

Viewing Original Napoleon Manuscript

For three months I’ve neglected this blog while I concentrated on my novel, usually working on it eight to twelve hours a day. Now the story is complete start to finish, and has been through several drafts. I’m in the process of getting critiques from my writing group and other expert readers.

Earlier this spring, I received special inspiration during a visit with Dr. David Karpeles who owns the world’s largest private collection of historical documents. Dr. Karpeles and his wife, Marsha, maintain twelve Karpeles Manuscript Museums around the country where they share their incredible documents and artifacts with the public. Among those documents are four pages of prose young Napoleon Bonaparte drafted in 1795. I’m not quite ready to publish details about my novel, but this document is essential to my plot.

These precious pages, written in Napoleon’s hand, are not on display in any museum. Dr. Karpeles generously invited me to view them in his home in Santa Barbara, California. You can judge from my face in the photo how thrilled I was.

Paris The Man Writing Links

Napoleonic Paris and Environs Slideshow

In March of last year, I was in Paris and Corsica, gathering inspiration at Napoleonic sites. In May, my St Helena trip rounded out my first-hand impressions of Napoleon from youth to dying exile. Now, as I near completion of a draft of my novel, I reflect on what depth those experiences have lent to my writing. In many cases, a room, a field, a color, a salt breeze may be remembered, not just imagined. I hope these subtle details add texture to the work.

Have I captured the essence of the Man? He certainly lives with me day to day, chapter to chapter, as I write. He’s an elusive character, slipping away at times until a firm-handed edit calls him back to the page. Sometimes, I find I like the young Napoleon better and the older one a little less.  In the end, my future readers will judge if I’ve succeeded.

Meanwhile, thanks to my husband Bert Helfinstein, here’s a five-minute slideshow of the Napoleonic sites we visited in and around Paris. I hope you enjoy it! And thank you, Bert, for having the skill and generosity to create it.


Miscellany Writing Links

Pushcart Prize Nomination

This fall, The Delmarva Review published my short story, “Mrs. Morrisette.” Now, they’ve nominated it for inclusion in the 2012 Pushcart Prize anthology. According to the Pushcart website, “The Pushcart Prize – Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976, is the most honored literary project in America.” Next April, I’ll find out if my story made it into this year’s publication, but regardless of the outcome, it’s a great honor to have my work nominated.

Here’s how “Mrs. Morrisette” begins:

“Mrs. Morrisette had taken to sunbathing in the nude. Mr. Morrisette blamed it on those damned Frenchies. One vacation on St. Barts and suddenly Mrs. Morrisette was a nudist.”

To read the rest, download an e-book of The Delmarva Review Volume 4 at Amazon or purchase it in hard copy directly from the publisher.

Saint Helena The Man Writing Links

Coincidence and the Man of Destiny

“Destiny urges me to a goal of which I am ignorant. Until that goal is attained I am invulnerable, unassailable.  When Destiny has accomplished her purpose in me, a fly may suffice to destroy me.”  Napoleon Bonaparte (from Napoleon: In His Own Words, 1916, edited by Jules Bertaut)

These words, attributed to Napoleon, reflect the belief he had in the power of an unknown force called Destiny.  Personally, I’m inclined to view Destiny, if anything, as a combination of genes, circumstance and free will.

Coincidence, too, plays a role. While I don’t think Destiny drives me to write this novel about Napoleon, here are a couple of fun coincidences:









The chair on the left is in the Briars, Napoleon’s first residence on St Helena.  The one on the right is in my library where I do most of my writing.  I inherited it from my mother who bought it at auction, then recreated the original needlepoint cover.

I took the photo on the left of the rug in Napoleon’s dining room in Longwood House on St Helena.  The photo on the right is a close-up of the similar Bokhara rug in my library at home.

I hope that my Destiny is not so tied to Napoleon’s that when I finish this book “a fly may suffice to destroy me!”

Saint Helena Writing Links

The Voyage Home

We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, this afternoon.  The seas were rough and the mood somber during the five-day return voyage on the RMS St Helena.  Even with stabilizers dampening the ship’s roll, she bucked high waves and heaved continuously.  Gray skies and occasional rain added to the gloom.  The first two days, we mostly stayed in our cabin, grateful for the Academy-nominated movies we’d brought from home.

Back on deck, our fellow travelers, some a bit green, some still cheerful, hid behind paperbacks and Sudoku. The anticipation gone and the vacation over, the ship’s lounge took on the air of a waiting room. Today we finally sighted Cape Town, only to bob in place for two long hours, as swells kept the harbor pilot from reaching us.  Once on land, we rushed the good-byes, before going our separate ways.  We spend tonight in Cape Town; tomorrow we board a twenty-two hour flight home.

I am so glad I made this voyage.  Reading others’ accounts could never have imprinted St Helena in my imagination as deeply or as accurately.  Its wind seared my ears, its fog hid my path, and its dampness cloaked my skin.  I’ve felt Longwood’s walls close around me. I’ve seen that Napoleon could look out the window next to his writing desk and watch the sun shine on the flower garden.  I’ve smelled the mildew and paced the creaking floors.

In The Black Room at Longwood, Jean-Paul Kauffmann writes of his visit there: “Longwood is intimidating and yet . . . there is something familiar in these rooms.”  Now I must translate that familiarity into a novel.  Did I see the ghosts? Michel Martineau, the French consul, teased me.  Yes, Michel, because if she is lucky, a writer always carries ghosts in her head.


Saint Helena The Man Writing Links

Longwood House Part 3

As visitors did during Napoleon’s time, I entered Longwood House up the stone steps through the green latticed portico, and stepped into the Billiard Room. The French volunteers-in-exile who had accompanied Napoleon crossed that same threshold with heavy hearts for a man without a future.  Back then, sympathizers and enemies alike must have felt awe seeing the face of the Emperor.  For almost two hundred years, countless pilgrims, scholars and the curious have journeyed to this remote spot—all for a chance to experience his fallen glory.

I had approached those steps warily, afraid of disappointment.  I’m not a groupie or celebrity chaser. I’m just a writer looking for the atmospherics and inspiration that lead to something called Voice. Or Truth.

Still, the stone steps gave me pause.  Those stones are authentic, a place where Napoleon had stood, contemplating his exile.  The rest of the physical structure felt less intimidating, having been replaced bit by bit as it disintegrated over the years, although the portico, with its green lattice work, was eerily familiar from old drawings I’d seen.

I took a deep breath in the Billiard Room. At first, the green walls were a shock, but they are a faithful reproduction, as is the black and white geometric frieze.  The billiard table is the original, and so are two large globes, one terrestrial, the other celestial.  Napoleon’s entourage preferred this room to all the others because it had the most light.  I could almost see them gathered around the table, but they rarely got to play.  Napoleon didn’t like billiards and, as he had in Malmaison’s billiard room, he spread his maps across the table’s surface.  There, as an up-and-coming general, he formulated a future; here as a prisoner, he rehashed the past.

Most people call this the Billiard Room.  Napoleon called it his Topographical Cabinet.  Writers or emperors, we all recreate the world with our unique vision and think it’s the truth.


Copyright © 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 Margaret Rodenberg