Today I’m handing the blog over to M.J. Rose.
Post Card No. 1
Postmark Paris, France 1894
We had heard about the legend of La Lune and went to Paris to hunt down information about her.
We began by looking for the famous occult bookstore Librairie du Merveilleux. When we finally found the secret shop at 76 rue de Rennes there was a crowd outside being kept under control by a police man. A woman with red hair and topaz eyes told us one shelf of books had suddenly burst into flames just moments before. But only the books on that one shelf. They were books about a sixteenth century a courtesan who’d made a pact with a famous witch in Prague. If she’d teach her to bring her lover back from the dead, the courtesan would give her all the riches she craved.
No one would tell us how the witch paid for what she learned. But they said Sandrine knows… except who is Sandrine?
New York socialite Sandrine Salome flees an abusive husband for her grandmother’s Paris mansion, but what she finds there is even more menacing. The house, famous for its lavish art collection and elegant salons, is closed and under renovation. Her grandmother insists it’s too dangerous to visit but Sandrine defies her — an unexplainable force is drawing her home.
There she meets Julien Duplessi, a mesmerizing architect, who introduces her to the City of Lights — its art world, forbidden occult underground, nightclubs — and to her own untapped desires.
From a mysterious fire at the Palais Garnier opera house, to a terrifying accident at the Eiffel tower and classes with Gustav Moreau at the École des Beaux-Arts, Sandrine’s experiences awaken her passions. Among the bohemians and demi-monde, Sandrine uncovers her erotic nature as a lover and painter.
Then more ominous influences threaten — her husband is tracking her down and something insidious is taking hold, changing Sandrine, altering her. She’s overcome by the spirit of La Lune, a witch, a legendary sixteenth-century courtesan, and an unsung artist in her own right, who exposes Sandrine to a darkness that could be a gift or a curse.
This is Sandrine’s “wild night of the soul,” her odyssey in the magnificent city of Paris, of art, love and witchery, and not until she resolves a tragic love story and family curse will she be free of the ghost’s possession.
Effortlessly absorbing and richly imagined, with sumptuous detail and spellbinding suspense, The Witch of Painted Sorrows conjures the brilliance and intrigue of Belle Époque Paris and illuminates the fine line
Paris, France April 1894
I did not cause the madness, the deaths, or the rest of the tragedies any more than I painted the paintings. I had help, her help. Or perhaps I should say she forced her help on me. And so this story—which began with me fleeing my home in order to escape my husband and might very well end tomorrow, in a duel, in the Bois de Boulogne at dawn—is as much hers as mine. Or in fact more hers than mine. For she is the fountainhead. The fascination. She is La Lune. Woman of moon dreams, of legends and of nightmares. Who took me from the light and into the darkness. Who imprisoned me and set me free.
Or is it the other way around?
“Your questions,” my father always said to me, “will be your saving grace. A curious mind is the most important attribute any man or woman can possess. Now if you can just temper your impulsiveness…”
If I had a curious mind, I’d inherited it from him. And he’d nurtured it. Philippe Salome was on the board of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and helped found the American Museum of Natural History, whose cornerstone was laid on my fifth birthday.
I remember sitting atop my father’s shoulders that day, watching the groundbreaking ceremony and thinking the whole celebration was for me. He called it “our museum,” didn’t he? And for much of my life I thought it actually did belong to us, along with our mansion on Fifth Avenue and our summerhouse in Newport. Until it was gone, I understood so little about wealth and the price you pay for it. But isn’t that always the way?
Our museum’s vast halls and endless exhibit rooms fascinated me as much as they did my father—which pleased him, I could tell. We’d meander through exhibits, my small hand in his large one, and he’d keep me spellbound with stories about items on display. I’d ask for more, always just one more, and he’d laugh and tease: “My Sandrine, does your capacity for stories know no bounds?”
But it pleased him, and he’d always tell me another.
I especially loved the stories he told me about the gems and fate and destiny always ending them by saying: “You will make your own fate, Sandrine, I’m sure of it.”
Was my father right? Do we make our own destiny? I think back now to the stepping-stones that I’ve walked to reach this moment in time.
Were the incidents of my making? Or were they my fate?
The most difficult steps I took were after certain people died. No deaths were caused by me, but at the same time, none would have occurred were it not for me.
So many deaths. The first was on the morning of my fifteenth birthday, when I saw a boy beaten and tragically die because of our harmless kisses. The next was the night almost ten years later, when I heard the prelude to my father’s death and learned the truth about Benjamin, my husband. And then there were more. Each was an end-ing that, ironically, became a new beginning for me.
The one thing I am now sure of is that if there is such a thing as destiny, it is a result of our passion, be that for money, power, or love. Passion, for better or worse. It can keep a soul alive even if all that survives is a shimmering. I’ve even seen it. I’ve been bathed in it. I’ve been changed by it.
Four months ago I snuck into Paris on a wet, chilly January night like a criminal, hiding my face in my shawl, taking extra care to be sure I wasn’t followed.
I stood on the stoop of my grandmother’s house and lifted the hand-shaped bronze door knocker and let it drop. The sound of the metal echoed inside. Her home was on a lane blocked off from rue des Saints-Pères by wide wooden double doors. Maison de la Lune, as it was called, was one of a half dozen four-story mid-eighteenthcentury stone houses that shared a courtyard that backed up onto rue du Dragon. Hidden clusters like this were a common configuration in Paris.These small enclaves offered privacy and quiet from the busy city. Usually the porte cochère was locked and one had to ring for the concierge, but I’d found the heavy doors ajar and hadn’t had to wait for service.
I let the door knocker fall again. Light from a street lamp glinted off the golden metal. It was a strange object. Usually on these things the bronze hand’s palm faced the door. But this one was palm out, almost warning the visitor to reconsider requesting entrance.
I was anxious and impatient. I’d been cautious on my journey from New York to Southampton and kept to my cabin. I’d left a letter telling Benjamin I’d gone to visit friends in Virginia and assumed that once he returned and read it, it would be at least a week before he’d realize all was not what it seemed. One thing I had known for certain—he would never look for me in France. It would be inconceivable to Benjamin that any wife of his could cross the ocean alone.
Or so I assured myself until my husband’s banking associate, William Lenox, spotted me on board. When he expressed surprise I was traveling by myself, I concocted a story but was worried he didn’t believe me. My only consolation was that we had docked in England and I had since crossed the channel into France. So even if Benjamin did come looking, he wouldn’t know where I’d gone.
That very first night in Paris, as I waited for my grandmother’s maid to open the door, I knew I had to stop thinking of what I had run away from. So I refocused on the house I stood before and as I did, felt an overwhelming sense of belonging, of being welcome. Here I would be safe.
April Indie Next List
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Big Spring Books – Amazon
#1 Historical Fiction for 2015 – Goodreads
“This bell époque thriller is a haunting tale of obsessive passions.” —People Magazine
“Provocative, erotic, and spellbindingly haunting…will have the reader totally mesmerized cover-to-cover….a ‘must-have’ novel.” —Suspense Magazine
“A haunting tale of erotic love…. M.J. Rose seamlessly weaves historical events throughout this story filled with distinctive characters that will keep the reader captivated to the end.” —Examiner.com
“Rose has a talent for compelling writing, and this time she has outdone herself. Fear, desire, lust and raw emotion ooze off the page.” —Associated Press
“Haunting tale of possession.” —Publishers Weekly
“Rose’s new series offers her specialty, a unique and captivating supernatural angle, set in an intriguing belle epoque Paris — lush descriptions, intricate plot and mesmerizing storytelling. Sensual, evocative, mysterious and haunting.” —Kirkus