Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The feeling of being rained upon

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon. 
~E. L. Doctorow

Fina is not the protagonist of The Color of the Sky.  She is only the younger sister of the protagonist, and at first glance might not seem of great import.  Blinded from a fever two years before the story begins, Fina can see nothing for herself, but instead relies on her sister Margot to see things for her.  Fina's deep appreciation for beauty leads her to constantly ask Margot to describe their surroundings, to tell her exactly how the sunset looks tonight and what kind of birds are wheeling in the sky above them.

Margot struggles with describing these things to Fina, exactly mirroring the way I constantly struggle to give an accurate picture of the beauty (or ugliness, or somewhere-in-between) in which my characters find themselves.  Because people.  Description is hard.

I've read so many wonderful books that seem to perfectly nail the tricky task of telling it like it is... The Yearling comes to mind, as do A Tale of Two Cities and The Bronze Bow.  These stories were all blessed with authors who knew how to marry the right words, to use just enough adjectives for coloring and just enough adverbs for seasoning.  And yet there's still another Book that has even greater word-pictures within it, one that wouldn't have immediately sprung to mind if you had asked me to name a piece of writing that evoked a beautiful sensation.

See, I was always a little scared of the latter books in the Old Testament.  Hosea, Joel, Amos and ObadiahJonahMicah were lumped together like HIJKelemenoP in the alphabet song.  And Ezekiel and Daniel?  Well, Daniel was good reading in the first half, but after that when the prophecies began... it was over my head.  I'd understand it all when I got older.

That was the excuse I hid behind for many a day.  In truth the excuse was roughly shaped like a very slender and spiky tree, and I resembled a child about twice the width of the trunk who blissfully believed that she was perfectly concealed behind the spindly branches.   Then came January 2012 and my resolution to read the entire Bible in one year.  Which meant the minor prophets.  And Ezekiel and Daniel.  (Also Song of Solomon which I'd always steered clear of because it embarrassed me in places, and Leviticus with all the laws... my goodness, I'm being quite candid tonight, aren't I?)

When I began Ezekiel in July, I was in for a surprise.  Sure, there were plenty of passages I didn't understand.   Yes, the Dry Bones song started running through my head as soon as I began chapter 37.  But it was chapter 27 that really arrested me, that stopped me in my dutiful plowing, that made me sit up and take notice (and a pen to underline) and truly love the words for the beautiful things that they were.  Pictures soared through my head like never before.

It was amazing.

See, I'm a pastor's daughter.  I'm a good girl, I am; I know my Bible.  My parents raised me to study the Word of God from a very young age, and I'm incredibly grateful for their patient teaching.  But there are times when human instruction doesn't cut it, when a book or chapter or verse can't be comprehended unless God speaks in a special way.  This was one of the special times.

I mean, look at these verses.  It's not poetry.  (I'm not too keen on poetry.)  It's prose--lovely, picture-filled, emotive, vibrant prose breathed by the Creator himself.  It's awe-inspiring.

Thus saith the Lord God; O Tyrus, thou hast said, I am of perfect beauty.
Thy borders are in the midst of the seas, thy builders have perfected thy beauty.
They have made all thy ship boards of fir trees of Senir: they have taken cedars from Lebanon to make masts for thee.

There, a sweeping picture of the wealth of nations.

Of the oaks of Bashan have they made thine oars; the company of the Ashurites have made thy benches of ivory, brought out of the isles of Chittim.
Fine linen with broidered work from Egypt was that which thou spreadest forth to be thy sail; blue and purple from the isles of Elishah was that which covered thee.

Colors dazzling in the sun... 

The men of Arvad with thine army were upon thy walls round about, and the Gammadims were in thy towers: they hanged their shields upon thy walls round about; they have made thy beauty perfect.

There, an image of soldiers from far away glorifying this city.

Syria was thy merchant by reason of the multitude of the wares of thy making: they occupied in thy fairs with emeralds, purple, and broidered work, and fine linen, and coral, and agate.
Judah, and the land of Israel, they were thy merchants: they traded in thy market wheat of Minnith, and Pannag, and honey, and oil, and balm.
Damascus was thy merchant in the multitude of the wares of thy making, for the multitude of all riches; in the wine of Helbon, and white wool.
Dan also and Javan going to and fro occupied in thy fairs: bright iron, cassia, and calamus, were in thy market.
Dedan was thy merchant in precious clothes for chariots...
These were thy merchants in all sorts of things, in blue clothes, and broidered work, and in chests of rich apparel, bound with cords, and made of cedar, among thy merchandise.

A marketplace of rich color.  Can't you just see it?  But now, of a sudden, the downfall of this great bustling metropolis...

All thy company which is in the midst of thee, shall fall into the midst of the seas in the day of thy ruin.
The suburbs shall shake at the sound of the cry of thy pilots.
And all that handle the oar, the mariners, and all the pilots of the sea, shall come down from their ships, they shall stand upon the land; and shall cause their voice to be heard against thee, and shall cry bitterly, and shall cast up dust upon their heads, they shall wallow themselves in the ashes: and they shall make themselves utterly bald for thee, and gird them with sackcloth, and they shall weep for thee with bitterness of heart and bitter wailing.

Suddenly the mood has changed, has turned into fear and lamentation and a chill starts to spread.

 And in their wailing they shall take up a lamentation for thee, and lament over thee, saying, What city is like Tyrus, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea? ... The merchants among the people shall hiss at thee; thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt be any more.

And the end.  Tragedy.  A city that would not give glory to the One who created it was reduced to a pile of rubble: a terror that never would be any more.

Are you shivering yet?
I am.

I have portions of that chapter copied in my notebook now.  Doomed Tyrus has nothing to do with fourteenth-century Provence.  I'm not writing about a city that rejected God; I'm not writing about a city at all.  There are few, if any, bustling marketplaces in Color of the Sky, and the people concerned in my story don't trade in fine broidered linen or elephant tusks.

Yet the images, the sense, the mood, the overall whoosh (to use a cop-out onomatopoeia) that I get from reading Ezekiel 27 is just what I--and Margot--struggle to convey to the reader--and Fina--in Sky.  I can see, and so can Margot.  I can write, and Margot can speak.  But to put into articulate speech the glory that can only be seen with the eyes--to give the feeling of being rained upon and not merely state that it is raining--that is the hard part.

They might awaken to dazzling sunrise on snow, for instance, and as soon as Margot would joyfully open her mouth to describe it, the snow would turn to pale water and the sun to pitiful candlelight on her tongue.  Capturing brilliance with words was, she often thought, like cutting through iron with a silk ribbon.
~The Color of the Sky

Saturday, August 18, 2012

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day Six

Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

During this week, I've listened to an awful lot of music.  Instrumental pieces, especially movie soundtracks, really help to get my creative juices flowing.  (Why is it called creative juice?  Juice is not particularly creative.  Why not creative Hawaiian punch?  Now that's creative.  Disgusting, but creative.)

You can see my generalized writing playlist here.  I'm working on compiling specific, customized playlists for each of my WIPs, but they're not finished yet.  So this week I just listened to that one and skipped the songs that didn't fit the mood of what I was writing.  Some of my favorites for Sky include Victoria and Albert (#27 on playlist), I've Seen Hell (#32),  Braveheart End Credits (#37), The Riders of Rohan (#39), Memories Can Weigh You Down (#43), Return of the Lion (#48) and Tara's Theme (#59).

What do you like to listen to when you write?

Snippets from today's work (all written while listening to the above songs)...

Margot couldn’t help but complain inwardly that Mother had never made a mistake in directing the servants the whole time the men were gone. Yet as soon as Philippe came back, everyone suddenly snapped to attention and bowed and scraped and scuttled out of his way, giving him far more respect than Mother had ever commanded.
But of course Mother hadn’t commanded anyone’s respect, whereas Philippe snapped his fingers and respect dropped into his lap.

“They’ll get out. They’re probably out already. Philippe’s rounding up the men from the village and they’ll capture all those idiotic bandits before the hour’s out. You’ll see.” Speaking firmly gave Margot a strength she did not feel.

Her hand was trembling as she pounded on the door. How odd—she hadn’t noticed that until now. Her other hand was shaking as well. In fact, her whole body was trembling. Perhaps it was an effect of the smoke.

“Perhaps they’re fighting the fire,” said Fina hopefully.
Margot held her breath, willing that gesture to somehow quell the nauseous dread rising up in her. “I’ve seen no one going to fight the fire, Fina. The road is empty.”

So how did you do this week?  My total is 7, 158 words.  For a girl who's been averaging 300-500 words a week until now, I call that good progress...  

...but that doesn't mean I'm doing it again next week.  

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day Five

{This is the post that was supposed to appear on Friday, but I got too busy.}

Originally, when I began this challenge, I intended to write in all three of my WIP's this week.  However, after just one day of working on Rochesters, I pretty much abandoned my other two darlings and focused all my energies on Sky.  (Yes, I abbreviate compulsively.)  The poor Detectives never even had a chance.  Oh well, their time will come.  I rather consider Detectives to be my "kick back and relax" story.  It's so very nonsensical and doesn't really require much brainpower.  Just silliness.

But yesterday [Friday] I worked on Sky again (surprise!) and found myself struggling this time with bringing out what my characters are trying to say.  The two that are bothering me the most are Margot and Philippe, because neither of them are particularly open about their feelings.  In the 1,186 words I wrote, neither sibling had much dialogue.  This was partly because there was a good deal of narrative, and partly because I honestly couldn't imagine what they were supposed to be saying.  I would rather do anything than marry without affection write words for my characters that are not their own.

Have you encountered this?  Have you faced an emotion-packed scene that requires you to write what people are feeling and thinking (perhaps not in their own words, but in your own as narrator, at least) and you just don't know how to go about it?  I can't possibly be the only one.  What do you do about it?

Philippe propped his chin in the palm of his hand. He said nothing for a moment, and when he finally did speak, it was softly and hesitantly. 

 “I don’t even know why we went. How much better it would have been for him to die here, among his family, and to be buried in his own, rightful grave with a decent funeral.”

“But you went for healing from the saint.” Margot hadn’t spoken throughout the entire meal, but now she gave Philippe a quizzical look. “I’m sure there would have been healing if you had only gotten there in time.”

“So it’s my fault, then, Margot?” Philippe raised his eyes from their blank stare at the bowl of cheese to Margot’s startled face. “If we had only left earlier or traveled faster, he would have lived? If I had taken better care of him, he might have made it to Canterbury, is that what you mean?”

How dare he twist her words in such a way? She hadn’t meant that at all.
~chapter two

Friday, August 17, 2012

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day Four

Sorry this one is a day late! I didn't get on the computer yesterday evening, so although I finished my writing quota for the day, I hadn't the time to blog about it. But here I am now, trying to find a funnier idiom than "better late than never" and failing miserably.

Yesterday was another new experience for me.  Color of the Sky has been all about new experiences so far, I think.  (It's a genre so different from anything I've written before, how could it be otherwise?)  Until yesterday, I'd never written anything serious about danger or terror.  My stories have always been so happy-go-lucky, but yesterday I dabbled for the first time in cold perspiration.  (Ewww.  Bad choice of words there...)

It's pretty different, writing about fear.  I've written embarrassment, I've written anger, I've written nervousness and apprehension-- but never sweating, shaking terror.  The scene I had to write was hard.  There are parts of it that I don't like at all.  But I can rework it later.  And you're probably tired of hearing the "just keep writing and edit later" mantra so I'll stop that.

I made it to 1,182 yesterday, and when I was finished I felt almost as drained as the characters themselves.  It's not easy, trying to figure out how much to include and how much to leave to the reader's imagination.  What to describe and what to state as simple fact.  How much drama to put in and how much numbness.  Whether to lighten the mood with a touch of humor or save it for another, more appropriate time.  (I agonized over that one and eventually went with the second.  There's a time and place for everything, and jokes aren't usually appreciated when you're being attacked by bandits.)

But then, nobody ever said writing was easy.  Or if they did, they lied.  (That sounds profound and deep, but I really stole it off a refrigerator magnet.  Refrigerator magnets tend to sound like that.)

Sometimes when she could not sleep, Margot would make lists in her head—lists of the tasks she wanted to accomplish the next day, lists of ideas for a story she would tell Fina, lists of her favorite things. The last list was practically never-ending. Tonight, however, she was in the mood to list all the things she particularly hated. Scratchy blankets, thistles in one’s foot, soured milk and brothers who did not care were battling it out for the top spot when she became aware of a steady thudding sound from below.

Voices drifted upwards, voices speaking a rough peasant form of the Occitan dialect. Margot could only hear a few words, and those she heard were not the kind Mother would have wanted her to hear. She was tempted to clamp her hands over Fina’s innocent ears, but she was too frightened to move.

Somehow it seemed safer to cower by the window instead of on the bed.

“Are you praying, Margot?” Obediently, Fina slung an arm around Margot’s shoulders and gripped the windowsill with her other.
“As hard as ever I can, at least I was until now—I can’t concentrate and do that at the same time, so you pray while I tell you where to step.”
The most horrible part was flinging her leg over the sill and finding nothing but soft, yielding air all around. After that, once her foot found a tough and solid vine, it got easier.

Before she could even begin to formulate an idea as to what to do next, a new sound struck her ears—one that made her blood run colder than it ever had during any of Chantal’s ghost stories.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day Three

Today I had the fun of introducing a new character to The Color of the Sky.  Until today, the only people who had put in real appearances in the story (and did not merely show up in fragments under my "Things to be added later" section) were Margot and Fina (the sisters around whom the story revolves), their mother, Philippe (their brother) and Chantal (an elderly maidservant).  But today I was privileged enough to write two scenes that featured Bernard Anthoine.  And the act gave me great pleasure, great pleasure indeed.  Because, you see, Bernard's been formulating in my mind for some time (and I character cast him as soon as I thought of him... see below... cough, cough) but until today I had yet to commit him to Word document.

That's not Ivanhoe.  That's Bernard.
Except that he doesn't wear chain mail. 

Snapping twigs crackled in the bracken, and Margot’s heart had barely enough time to speed up before a dirt-streaked man ducked under a low-hanging branch and was facing them. Running would be futile, she was sure. Besides, he had a bow slung from one shoulder. She wondered how much an arrow would hurt, and how long it would take for them to die.

Beside her, Fina stiffened. The disturbance of the underbrush and Margot’s sudden silence spoke volumes—she knew there was danger. Her hand groped slowly but surely for Margot’s and clasped it. The mild pain of Fina’s fingernails digging into her palm brought Margot to her senses. Whatever might happen, she could not stand here staring into this fellow’s deer-brown eyes all day long. If he killed them, he killed them. So be it. At least they would not have to suffer hunger pangs any longer.

“What is your business here?” She tried to make her voice as authoritative as possible, aping Philippe’s most stentorian tones.

“My business here?” The man stood up straight, pushing swaying leaves away from his face and tugging a stray one from his tousled blond hair, but he touched neither his bow nor the knife at his belt. “My business is to do a bit of hunting for my family—perhaps a better question would be to ask what business two maids have out here, unescorted.” There was no anger or threat in his voice, merely interest.

“And if we are unescorted? What is it to you?” Margot squeezed Fina’s hand so hard she could hear the bones creak, and hastily she loosened her grip.

“Nothing whatsoever,” said the man, smile lines creasing the corners of his mouth and eyes. “Only that I should not like to see you come to any harm. These woods are not the safest place to be out alone, you know.”

Margot narrowed her eyes. His face had a weatherbeaten kindness about it, and he had still not reached for his bow. Perhaps—just perhaps—he did not intend to kill and eat them after all. (Just when her terrified imaginings had expanded to include cannibalism she did not know, but it was at least slight relief to know that he did not intend to do anything of the sort at present.)

~The Color of the Sky, chapter three

Oh, and final count for today is 1,057.  I wasn't aiming for 1500 today.  No, seriously! I wasn't!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day Two

Today I was not in a writing mood.  Today I was in a sewing mood.  I drafted a bodice pattern, cut out said bodice pattern, pinned the pattern to the cloth and cut out the pieces, sewed the bodice together and discovered it was too small, made notes to enlarge the seam allowance tomorrow... oh, I was supposed to tell you about my writing today, wasn't I?

Pearl S. Buck put it really, really well.  "Your mind must know it has got to get down to work."  Period.  End of story. No, actually, beginning of story.  Stop woolgathering, stop waiting for the right time (or the right pair of socks, the right cup of tea, the right chair to sit in, the right time of day...) and just write.

That's what I did today.  I wrote 1,529 words--most of them in The Color of the Sky--and it was kind of like squeezing blood out of a turnip (although why anyone would want blood from a turnip is beyond me... gross).  They didn't flow freely.  They didn't come easily.  They don't look very good now that I'm rereading them.  They didn't even sound very good when I read them out loud to my sister.

But I wrote them, and that's what counts.  Write now.  Edit later.  EDIT.  LATER.  Willpower, Amy.  WILLPOWER.

On a happier note, I've found Fina!  Fina, in case I haven't made this clear already (can't remember...) is Margot's younger sister, and originally she was supposed to look kind of like Buttercup in The Princess Bride... but I wasn't altogether pleased with that.  Then today I was looking through some medieval-style paintings on Google Images (I collect pictures for inspiration) and bang, there she was, looking at me.  Well, not actually at me.  She was kind of looking off to the side; the middle distance, as my sister calls it.  

It's her face that counts, not the Roman-maiden clothing and the wild hair.  Fina's hair is about that color, only not quite so floating and mermaid-ish.  I'm vastly pleased with this picture on the whole, though.  Now for snippets.

They sat quietly together as the sun dappled through the thicket and revealed the grass stains and streaks of mud on their clothing, silent testimony to the terrible race through the night.

Father had always said that Jacques should save money on scythes and use Chantal’s tongue for harvesting instead. Mother, in her turn, had always shaken her head and hushed Father, for fear that Chantal might hear. She had been Mother’s maidservant since Mother was a child, and to offend her was easier than tripping on the loose brick in the stairway to the kitchen. Philippe had once said (quietly, of course) that if Chantal hadn’t been bound to Mother’s service for life, she would have left the manor before Fina was born. Margot had somehow managed to receive a congenital talent for angering Chantal, a talent that had manifested itself from the time she was two years old and had told Chantal that her nose looked like a snake’s nose. (Chantal’s nose did bear serpentine attributes, but Chantal had not taken kindly to the comparison.)

The anger she had heard in Philippe’s tones earlier had faded a bit, but it was still crouched and ready to spring at any moment.

Dewdrops melted on the web, so very slowly but steadily just the same. The owner of the web uncoiled himself from his wispy little nugget of a bed in the corner and set out for his morning walk across his tiny kingdom. Margot briefly wondered if she ought to be repulsed by the fuzzy black body, but somehow she seemed like the intruder in this peaceful place, with the spider as the proud and condescending host.

So how'd you do today?  Are you blogging your progress?  Care to share a snippet or four?  Leave me a link in the comments!

Monday, August 13, 2012

1,000 Daily Challenge: Day One

This is not me, but I rather wish it was.
I made it!... for today at least.  One thousand, one hundred and twenty words have been added to The Rochesters, and today's theme was "write now, edit later."  I'm not tremendously pleased with what I've written, but I keep reminding myself to just keep swimming and wait to revise 'til it's all finished.

We'll have to wait and see how well THAT goes.  They don't call me "Miss Compulsive Tweaker" for nothing.  Oh, wait, they don't call me that at all...

...well, they should.

I didn't get up early to write today, nor did I do anything special.  I just sat down at the computer at three different intervals throughout the day and pecked out a few hundred words.  It wasn't really that hard... which is why I'm going to make myself do 1500 tomorrow.  I'm still calling this the 1,000 Daily Challenge for two reasons: a) because I don't like changing the names of things unless I have to (it tends to confuse people) and b) because just in case I don't make 1500 tomorrow, I'll still have the 1,000 to fall back on and won't feel quite as guilty.

Ahem moving on.  Snippets from today's work, here we come!  (All of these hail from The Rochesters.)

“Actually, Lemmins is spelled with two M’s and an I. L-e-m-m-i-n-s.”
“Really?” The girl at the counter wrinkled her nose. “I’ve never heard it spelled that way… are you sure?”
Sylvia was tempted to say, “Oh, yes of course. It’s actually Lemons. How silly of me, not to be able to spell my own name,” but she reflected that this might be considered rude and decided not to make remarks.

Alice reached out a dreamy hand for a butter knife, slit the envelope, and ever-so-slowly pulled the letter out. She was evidently enjoying the drama of the moment.
Francie appeared in the doorway. “Why’d it get so quiet down here all of a sudden? Is anyone dead?”
“It’s a letter from Aunt Maria,” said Celia in hollow tones.
“Oooooh.” Francie flew across the scratched linoleum to peer over Alice’s shoulder.
Alice read very fast, mouthing words to herself occasionally as the others waited with held breath. Sylvia still had only a vague idea of what was going on, but the melodramatic excitement in the air was contagious. She was going to start sneezing with the jitters in a minute, she just knew it.

Alice let out a huff. “Okay, well, [Mark] says he won’t be a groomsman. Period.”
“Then don’t make him be one,” said Celia. “Let him sit unnoticed in one of the pews with a paper bag over his head if he wants to. Case closed. I’m going back to—”
Alice caught the hem of Celia’s skirt and dragged her back to the bed. “It’s not that simple.”
It sounded simple enough to Sylvia. Besides which, permitting Mark to sit in church with a paper bag over his head sounded entertaining, but she was keeping her mouth shut.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Challenge

I love this quote... but find it difficult to look at this piece of inspiration
without cringing at the omitted apostrophe.  ARGHHHHH.

I read inspirational writing blogs.  I write a few inspirational posts of my own.  I read lots of books.  I drink tea.  I read more books.  I collect writing quotes.  I scribble ideas in a notebook.  I stick my nose back into my books.  

And I get, oh, maybe a thousand words written.

Per week.


And that's why I'm challenging myself next week.  On Monday, August 13th, I will write one thousand words.  Or more, if possible.  On Tuesday, August 14th, I will write one thousand words.  Or more.  On Wednesday I will do the same.  You get the idea.  I'll continue through Saturday, and each day I'll blog about my progress and share a couple of snippets.  It's motivating, you know.  Motivating to know that thirty of you will be holding me accountable.  (You ladies are amazing, by the way.)

Writer's block, prepare to meet thy doom on the sword of Sabrina Starr.

P.S. Does anyone want to join me?  Leave a link in the comments? Six thousand words next week--will you do it?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Beautiful People {Archive Edition}: Philippe

 Every time I write a story, I tell myself that I'm not going to play favorites on this go-round.  And every time, I find myself inexpressibly drawn to a certain character (or two).  Rodney and Lavinia tied in Only a Novel, Francie is becoming my new best friend in The Rochesters, Deirdre fascinates me no end in The Butterwick Boardinghouse Detectives, and now I'm beginning to favor Philippe over any other character in The Color of the Sky.  So I've fished another Beautiful People questionnaire out of the archives, and you're all probably tired of hearing me gush about how helpful these are, so I'll skip the advertisement and get to the Real Thing.

How old is he?

Philippe's about twenty-two or twenty-three.  I'm not exactly sure.

What does he do with his spare time?

This question bugs me.  I'm not quite sure Philippe has what you'd call spare time.  The fact is that at the beginning he's trying his hardest to fill his deceased father's shoes by running the manor house and bossing the laborers and arranging his sisters' futures.  Then SOMETHING happens and he's notably absent for a good part of the book, and while he's missing in action (cough, cough-- literally--cough) he's basically trying to stay alive.  So yeah... spare time?  What's that?

Does he see the big picture or live in the moment?

Philippe wants desperately to see the big picture, but he's not yet sure what that is.  He's stuck in the moment right now and though he'd never admit it to anyone, he has a gnawing fear that there's nothing beyond the moment. (Pardon my speaking in riddles... all will be revealed in good time.)

Is he a perfectionist?

You better believe it.

What does his handwriting look like? (round, slanted, curly, skinny, sloppy, neat, decorative, etc.)

Philippe doesn't write much.  I'm not sure if he even knows how.  I have to do a little more research about 13th-century literacy levels.
Ignore the suit, okay? It's hard finding medieval-
style photos that don't include armor, people.

Favorite animal?

Sometimes he's convinced all men are merely animals.

Does he/she have any pets?

Um, he has a horse.  Which he pets.  Occasionally.

Does he have any siblings? How many? Where does he fit in?

Philippe has two younger sisters, Margot and Fina.  He had three brothers and another sister, as well, but three of them died as infants and one as a toddler.  As for fitting in-- he doesn't.  Margot and Fina have a special relationship into which he's not invited, and just between you and me, that hurts him a little.  Not that he has time for that kind of nonsense of course, but still... he'd probably kill me if he knew I was telling you this, so I'll stop.  And I realize that I probably interpreted the last question a little differently than I was supposed to, but what are rules for if you can't bend them occasionally?  (Don't let Philippe hear me say that either, or I'd be the one getting booted off to a convent.)

Does he have a 'life verse' and if so what is it?

That.  Would be telling.  So I won't.

Favorite writing utensil?

Can we change this to "favorite eating utensil" so that I can respond with "his fingers"?  Yay for medieval table manners.