Floats the Dark Shadow had a long gestation. I tried writing a different Belle Époque novel for about a year. I had a heroine I liked and kept telling her she was an artist. As an artist myself, I knew I could bring Paris of that era to life through my heroine’s eyes. But this character kept telling me she was a journalist. My perfectly serviceable murder plot wouldn’t take off and my characters wandered around aimlessly. Writing about that era was what I wanted to do, but it wasn’t working.
Thrashing about, I asked myself what else I could do, and I remembered an earlier fascination with Gilles de Rais because of the extremes of his life – the inspiration that Jeanne d’Arc could at least be presumed to have been, followed by the descent into bestial cruelty dressed up in cloth of gold. But I really didn’t want to write about that period. Then my brain went Copy Cat! Everything fell into place like dominoes.
The former hero and heroine became secondary characters, then vanished. I needed a cop and still wanted my artist heroine. I’d started a romance that was essentially La Femme Nikita in Elizabethan England. I took those characters but had to find new lives for them because they weren’t in thrall to Walsingham’s spy system. I wanted a conflicted hero who was shut down on some level and saw that his history was woven with the Commune. While she’s lived rough and tumble for a while, Theo has a certain inherent innocence and optimism that made a great counterpoint to the fin-de-siècle European sensibilities of the other characters. And as for the villain – Gilles de Rais, though he could be totally crass and brutal, he could also be an artist of evil, staging his murders, staging his whole life, which made him the perfect inspiration for my killer. I brought on my suspects—an absinthe addicted poet, a failed priest, an anarchist and an aristocrat, a sadistic doctor and a Satanist. And so my novel came to life.
Floats the Dark Shadow was published by a small San Francisco Press, BearCat. Several of BearCat’s publications were up for Indie awards and Floats the Dark Shadow won four Indies in mystery and history, including a Silver Ippy in the Best Mystery of the Year category.
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