Sadly, the answer was me.
I needed a topic. I came across the Leroy Ladurie's book Montaillou which chronicled the village of Montaillou from 1294-1324. The priest Jacques Fournier, later Pope Benedict XII, held an inquisition because the area had been infected by the Cathar heresy. He had stored the meticulous transcripts in the Vatican.
The book gave me everything I needed. All the characters and events that was just waiting for my words. The main characters would be.
- Pierre Clergue: the priest who played the Catholics against the Cathar.
- Bernard Clergue: Pierre's brother who ran the tiny village.
- Beatrice: The chatelaine of the castle (see photo below) and was the priest's lover (among others for both of them).
- Jacques Fournier: The inquisitor who suffered from OCD.
- The Authie brothers: heretical "good men" who roamed the countryside converting people from the church.
I realized the problem with the rental car when the gas gauge was up and down not sideways and I wasn't sure if the tank was full or empty. The garageist must have thought I was crazy as I tried to find out mimicking filling it up and then looking questioning. The gas tank was full.
The drive up the mountain to Montaillou was full of twists and turns with few barriers. On each turn, I could see the tops of trees from the turn before. I prayed I would meet no one going down.
Up and up and up. I wondered how anyone could discover the heretics if they hadn't wanted to be discovered even though I knew the 14th century residents descended to Parmiers and Foix for commercial reasons.
Montaillou, itself, was not particularly friendly. Scowls came from villagers as I walked around taking pictures. I had gotten the color I wanted. The castle (photo above) was smaller than I thought. I found the church where Cathar Madame Clergue was buried, much to the disgust of those that were still Catholic.
It was dark when I started back down the mountain and the twists and turns scared me even more. I pulled over when I passed a field where I debated sleeping. The number of sheep that were there made the idea not pleasant. Instead, I spent the night in the cramped car surrounded by the sheep.
For the rest of the research, I went to Foix where Fournier held his inquisition was and Carcassonne where the Authiés were burned as heretics. I went through the château where Béatrice was married. In a book store, I met a man who took me to lunch and gave me background on the Cathars.
It took a year to write and rewrite Heretics and Lovers and many more years of rejection. I was told that history novels weren't all that marketable. After entering the book in the Hemingway Literary Festival, I was surprised to be a finalist. Still more rejections despite the recognition, which gave me hope.
I was still in the can-I-really-write stage.
I put the manuscript in a drawer, went on to write Chickpea Lovers: Not a Cookbook, The Card, Family Value and Running from the Puppet Master. I earned a masters in creative writing from the University of Glamorgan in Wales.
When I began my Third Culture Kid mystery series, I always put in a historical component. Dusting off Heretics and Lovers, I used the story of Jacques Fournier's years in Paris as the historical part for Murder in Paris. These were mainly fictionalized but were based on what I could glean of Fournier's character from the Ladurie book.
Last year, Rick and I were in Avignon at the Palace des Papes. There was a room with the portraits. I showed him Jacques Fournier's.
I've been back to Montaillou with others who've read Ladurie's book. The feeling is no longer hostile, but it is still tiny with a population of 18. Until 2014 the mayor was named Jean Clergue. There were no Cathar heretics or so I think.