If you are a regular reader of my blog, you are well aware of my ardent belief in the power of serendipity. In Serendipity and the Boob Tree I wrote about my unexpected encounter with Marie Antoinette’s tumor-riddled tree. In Serendipity in a Prison I told you about a chance encounter I had in a chateau prison deep in the heart of the Loire Valley. Today, I would like to tell you about a frighteningly-fabulous serendipitous encounter.
Five years ago, I read about an event that occurred during the French Revolution which captured my imagination. At the height of the Reign of Terror, the bloodiest period of the revolution, a black hearted official came up with a new and thoroughly dishonorable way of executing enemies of the Republic. Jean-Baptiste Carrier, an especially cruel member of the new government, gave the order to have 90 prisoners placed on a flat-bottomed barge, taken to the middle of the Loire River, and drowned. Thousands of people, most of them innocent of any real crime, lost their lives in this manner, in what would become known as the noyades.
I read about the noyades and a novel was born in my mind. I imagined a young noblewoman who was falsely accused of treason and thrown into the river. She manages to escape and comes back years later to exact revenge on the man who falsely accused her of treason. I imagined it to be a darker, feminine version of the Count of Monte Cristo.
For days, I feverishly sketched out my characters and plot. Then, I sat down to write. The first scene had been flickering in my brain for days, like a motion picture. I saw a woman with silvery-blonde hair and bound wrists floating face up in a river. A man on horseback rides over a hill, witnesses the carnage, and dashes into the water just in time to save my heroine.
I wrote the scene as if I had witnessed it, not imagined it. Everything was in sharp detail. It was if I could smell the icy water, see the gossamer moonlight, and feel the stark terror. If I had believed in reincarnation, I would have said I had unearthed a latent experience and had written from memory, but I was not convinced of the possibility of reincarnation.
Three quarters of the way through writing Scarlet Ribbons I made a trip to Paris. As most tourists are wont to do, I dedicated one day for a visit to the Louvre. Serendipity must have taken me by the hand that visit, for although I had intended to focus my time and attentions on the apartments of Napoleon III, after a series of wrong turns, I found myself in the Salle Mollien. To be more precise, I found myself staring at a painting hanging in the Salle Mollien - a painting that sent chills down my spine and had me seriously reconsidering my ideas about the possibility of reincarnation. In fact, I have chills as I am writing this, because I remember staring at the painting, goose bumps on my arms.
The painting had been of an angelic female floating in water with her hands bound in front of her. The woman had a gauzy white gown. A figure stood on a hill above her. The night was dark.
It was the opening scene from my novel.
Then I looked at the nameplate attached to the painting. The Young Martyr by Paul Delaroche. A new jolt of emotional electricity shot through me. I had unwittingly named one of my minor characters Guy de la Roche. I stood, rooted to the museum floor, silently asking myself difficult questions. Had I somehow seen The Young Martyr before? I doubted it. I had only been the Louvre one other time. Although I enjoyed art, I had never studied it formally nor would I define myself as an authority on French Romantic Art. Besides, it was a striking image, the sort one would remember. Could I have come across the painting during my research for Scarlet Ribbons? Had Delaroche painted The Young Martyr after learning about the mass drowning on the Loire in Nantes? I read the brief paragraph on the nameplate and learned that it had nothing to do with the noyades. Delaroche was depicting the death of a young Christian martyr in the 3rd century AD during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian.
I returned home terrified and exhilarated. I wondered if Delaroche and I had been somehow linked, were still somehow psychically linked. I wondered if there was a mystical reason that we both drew the same image. He had used paint and I had used words, but the end results were startlingly, unmistakably similar.
There are many who would chalk this event up to coincidence. Ten years ago, when I had just started writing novels, I would have agreed with them. Now, after numerous serendipitous encounters, I believe there is something magical, something larger than coincidence at work.
A few weeks ago, I started work on a new novel and Madame Serendipity has already offered her assistance. In fact, she has found new ways to startle me, but those are stories for another day…