Heidi von Palleske joined us at Junction Reads on September 26 to talk about TWO WHITE QUEENS AND THE ONE-EYED JACK, the first of her Glass Eye trilogy, that spans decades from Germany to Canada. It was an absorbing read and the characters are still alive in my mind. I am excited to see some of them again in book two. You can purchase the book directly from Dundurn Press. Or visit one of your favourite Independent Bookstores.
Writing a Trilogy: Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack is the first in the Glass Eye Trilogy and so I have to ask about decisions you may have made with foreshadowing and what and how you decided to share details in the first book and what you knew needed to be held back for the second and third? Have you outlined all three books?
I actually did not know that it would be a trilogy when I wrote the first book. It was only when I ended it that I was aware that some of the characters still had more to say. Still, I dragged my heels, anxious to get onto something new. Then readers started to say that they, too, wanted more of the characters and so I read through the first book and it became clear where the next book would start. The second book is complete, and awaiting notes, and the third nook is roughly outlined. I do, always, leave room for the characters to reroute the story, however. I can tell you that book two starts around 9-11 and that book three starts on the day of the Toronto blackout and ends with the first Pandemic Lockdown.
“Writing everyday meant that the Muse knew the door was open at the same time each day.”Heidi von Palleske
I have read that the final draft is very close to the first draft and that in writing Two White Queens, you essentially sat down every day and wrote it from start to finish. This is an incredible accomplishment. How the heck did you do it?
Honestly, the more I made daily writing a priority the easier the writing became. I remember my younger days when I would wait for the “muse” to descend upon me. Writing everyday meant that the Muse knew the door was open at the same time each day and so inspiration became easier as I became more focussed. The other part of the equation is that there is writing time and there is thinking time. I thought about the details of my interwoven plotlines a lot before and during the intense period of writing Two White Queens.
The history of the time (20 years after WW2 all the way up and through the cold war) is an important aspect of the novel, but it doesn’t feel like its own character, as it can sometimes feel in other historical novels. How did you balance research and your experience growing up on the shores of Lake Ontario, to create such an authentic backdrop?
Well, I grew up on the shores of Lake Ontario, on a farm that in some ways looked a lot like the home I created for Hilda and Jack. My father was a German Immigrant who came to Canada, like many Germans, right after the war. My own experience of being a first-generation German-Canadian coloured the novel, I am sure. That, of course, is clear in everything from the German guilt to the German food! As far as the history element of the book, I tried to create a backdrop where historical events take place but they do so only in terms of how the events touch the characters. It was important to me that each character have a clear, individual journey while the era and the events weave those journeys together. Each of us has a desire or a path, but we are also a part of the fabric of society and connected to its history. The question during the historical aspect of the research was always, “How does this affect each character?”
The Art in the background: I love when other art forms exist in fiction, in particular when characters are artists and the writer has to not just write their stories but create their art and present it to the reader as believable and beautiful? Considering your last novel, They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore I feel like art is important to you, Can you talk about the process of making it important to your characters, as well. The music, the visual art, the photography.
Hah! Full disclosure here – I cannot even draw a stickman. Seriously, if I were to draw a stickman I am certain many might ask, what is that? With ‘They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore,’ many readers assumed I must have had a visual arts background and that I must have attended OCAD. I simply have a huge respect for other forms of art. And art affects me in profound ways. Moves me. Now, ‘Red Trains’ came to be because I was researching two Canadian sculptors, Florence Wyle and Francis Loring, wanting to write a script. The script was never written, but I researched so much about sculpture that much of it ended up in the novel when it was written. After that, I have been known to haunt museums and to drive to other cities just for an art exhibit. As far as opera goes, well maybe next lifetime! Opera touches me greatly. It is often the music and the voice, without the actual meaning, that touches me. Hmm…. maybe some ballet in book three is needed!
The funny thing is that people have been sending me music, telling me that they imagine Bleach to sound like one band or another. I have had people say they wish that the band Bleach really existed, that they could hear their music in their heads. And I have had a few painters who have told me that they want to do the painting I describe as Gareth’s greatest work when, and if, the book becomes a film. I now actually own a very beautiful painting, done by the artist John Nobrega, of his vision of Blanca and Clara. Across the top are the words, “ZWEI WEISSE KONIGINNEN” which means Two White Queens.
“Come away, oh human child, To the waters and the wild With a faery, hand in hand, For the world’s more full of weeping Than you can understand.”W.B. Yeats
There are so many wonderful characters in the novel. At the centre are Clara and Blanca, the Two White Queens, Jack, his best friend Gareth and Tristan, Gareth’s older brother. But then there are also others, the family members, Elaine and Mark, Hilda and John, Faye, Bob and the grandfather, Siegfried, Esther. The perspective isn’t so much omniscient as it is a fluid movement among all the characters in the novel. Each of them is given their own voice. Was this intentional, or did they all come out with voices so strong you had to give them all their own POV?
That is a tough question. I think it was a bit of both. It did take some juggling to balance the voices and, of course, some ended up having a stronger voice than I first imagined. Siegfried for instance. And you are right, it is not a omniscient narrative in the traditional sense. When it is one character’s POV we don’t jump into another’s head, but certainly we do visit the thinking of all of them. Some more so than others. Esther, for instance, is an important, but secondary, character whose thoughts we visit quite a bit. The fluid switching of POV is something I have been playing with for a while. There is an experimental book, not yet published, written between ‘They Don’t Run Red Trian Anymore’ and ‘Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack,’ where I play with non-linear, snapshot scenes that paint a picture. I like to call it ‘Impressionistic Writing,’ where there are many POV’s and many small stokes but, when the reader steps back, a whole picture is painted and the story all comes together as one story, even though it seems at first to be many small stories. I do this as well in Book Two. As you know, ‘They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore’ was very different. It was a first-person narrative, very confessional in feeling, though not linear. I thought switching to a third person narrative would be very difficult after that book, but I found it quite freeing.
Clara and Blanca have albinism and inside the book, they are targeted by family and others in their life. They’re called ugly; they’re described as fairies and they are set apart by many characters in the novel. How important is it to you that art, in particular literature and film, include subjects with differences?
I am glad you asked this question. I have spent a great part of my life working in film. Casting, with its obvious stereotypes, has been something that has always bothered me. Heroes and romantic leads are mostly cast as what is generally considered attractive. The best friend can never look as pretty as the lead. God forbid that someone with a scar on the face play anything but evil. (I have a scar and my career was mostly villains and the ‘other woman’) When I looked into this more, I found out that there were around 68 films made in Hollywood between 1960 and 2006 – the majority between 1990 and 2003 – where people with albinism were soulless, murderous, or deranged villains. Yet I could not think of one film where an albino actor was cast, or an albino character was written, as brave, loving, human, or real. Considering the atrocities that people with albinism face in some parts of the world, because of supernatural beliefs and discrimination, I think this is very irresponsible. On top of the fact that the two girls have albinism, there is also the question of how twins are portrayed in film and literature. We know that twins are fetishized and sexualized. So, I wanted to make Clara and Blanca real, flesh and blood, personalities with dreams and desires and problems, without shying away from how people who appear to be different are often bullied and discriminated against, not only in books but in reality.
You know, often a kid is bullied for being different, whether that is in appearance or in thinking. If we changed how people are portrayed in film and fiction, then perhaps we can change how people are perceived and treated in our actual world. As you know, my novel has been optioned for a film or limited TV series. My great hope is that an actor, or twin actors, with albinism, be cast in the roles of Clara and Blanca.
Clara and Blanca felt like a great gift to me. And in the end, I think they are rather heroic!
Heidi von Palleske is is an award-winning novelist, script-writer and actor. Her first novel, They Don’t Run Red Trains Anymore, published in 2017, won the HR Percy award. She has been a runner up for both the Toronto Star short story competition and the poetry Guild poetry competition. Her short stories and poems have been published in Raskolikov’s Cellar, Beggars Press and Pottersfield Portfolio. Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack was a Loanstars top ten pick for new releases for Winter 2021. The book was optioned and recorded for Tantor Media, as an audible book scheduled to be released October 19, 2021, narrated by Heidi herself. Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack has also been optioned by academy award winning Bunbury Films for screen rights.
Two White Queens and the One-Eyed Jack is also the first book in the Glass Eye trilogy.