What would you risk for the love of a stranger?
Ilyse Charpentier, a beautiful young chanteuse, is the diva of the 1894 Parisian cabaret scene by night and the unwilling obsession of her patron, Count Sergei Rakmanovich, at every other waking moment.
Though it has always been her secret desire, Ilyse’s life as “La Petite Coquette” of the Paris stage has turned out to be anything but the glamorous existence she had dreamt of as a girl. As a young woman, Ilyse has already suffered tragedy and become estranged from her beloved brother, Maurice, who blames her for allowing the Count to drive them apart.
Unhappy and alone, Ilyse forces herself to banish all thoughts of independence until the night Ian McCarthy waltzes into her life. Immediately taken with the bold, young, British expatriate, Ilyse knows it is time to choose: will she break free and follow her heart or will she remain a slave to her patron’s jealous wrath for the rest of her life?
Book Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U7pW7yChGLE
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City of Lights Excerpt: Diva in the Wings
Taken from City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier, Chapter 1, A Chance Meeting
The balmy night air of August had served to fill the halls of La Perle de Paris to capacity once again. Not a seat was unoccupied, save one quiet table in a secluded, unlit corner of the club—a table that was always reserved. The chants had commenced long ago, a gradual build from a quiet murmur to a dull roar—“Coquette, Coquette, Vive la Coquette!” The raucous mob wanted their star, and in a moment, their hunger would be satisfied.
“Ten minutes, everyone!” a burly man bellowed, pushing his way through a mass of tulle and silk. He made his way down the backstage corridor until he came upon a solitary girl stealing a peek through the Tyrian purple-hued curtains.
“Ten minutes, Ilyse, get ready!” he ordered.
“Yes, Giverne,” she returned, smiling, and watched as he huffed down the hall. In a moment, her olive-brown eyes were once again fixed upon the throng, and she resumed rehearsing her lines. “City of Lights, Paree, do you see?” she sang, “I am the Diva on the stage. Hope—” But her soft chanting was suddenly interrupted by a wild flurry running down the corridor. In an instant, the commotion materialized into a profusion of blonde tendrils, which framed a pleasant round face and a pair of large, over-bright blue eyes.
“You’re late, Manon,” Ilyse said, trying to sound reproachful as she addressed the frazzled young woman.
The girl panted stertorously while she tried to straighten her costume and smooth her unruly curls. “Well, you know how it is. Wardrobe problems.”
“Yes,” Ilyse answered, a knowing smirk playing about the corners of her mouth. “I know exactly how it is … too much chocolat, no?”
Manon stopped her primping and looked up at her dearest friend. “I can’t help it if I have a sweet tooth!” she blurted out. “Now stop all this nonsense and fasten me up, will you?”
“Oh, very well,” Ilyse laughed, and abandoned her post to come to her disheveled friend’s rescue. “Now, hold it in.”
“I can’t,” Manon squeaked.
“Well, that’s because you’re not wearing your corset.”
“Never!” Manon retorted as if someone had just accused her of killing Marat. “I can’t wear that monstrous thing. It crushes me terribly. And what’s more, I can’t even breathe with it on.”
“No one ever said beauty was painless, darling,” Ilyse said, not having any luck in her struggle to hook the fasteners on Manon’s dress.
“Well, this beauty will go without!”
“Then it’s hopeless.” Ilyse sighed and released her hold on Manon’s costume. “You’ll have to play ‘Sourd et Muet’ tonight.”
“Ah, ma foi, such is my fate.”
For a time, silence reigned, each girl fighting not to be the first to laugh. Finally, as always, Ilyse was the first to break. “Oh, stop playing the martyr, you ridiculous fool!”
Manon made a lavish bow and struck a theatrical pose. “Don’t you think we should use that in the act?” she suggested, her large cerulean eyes widening expectantly.
“Oh, most definitely,” Ilyse acquiesced, still laughing. “If only we can get Giverne’s permission.”
“Forget it, then. Now, enough about Giverne. Is my Marquis out there?”
Before Ilyse had time to stop her, Manon had pulled back the curtain and poked her head into the hall. “Oh, I see him, the darling,” she cooed, spying her Marquis and flailing her bejeweled hand through the air in a gesture that was meant to be a wave but never amounted to more than a flash of rubies and emeralds.
“Don’t wave at him, you fool!” Ilyse whispered, and just as she said this, the glare of the candlelit hall vanished and Manon found herself staring at a suffocating wall of purple velvet and her friend’s less-than-pleased face. “Discretion, Manon,” Ilyse reminded, fighting to repress the smile that was threatening to destroy her facade of seriousness, “discretion. We are not to be seen or heard until our grand entrance. How do you expect to keep the Marquis interested?”
“I suppose that’s true,” Manon agreed. “But I couldn’t help taking just one peek.” Ilyse smiled at her impish friend and noticed that Manon’s irrepressible dimples had appeared—a certain sign of trouble. Whenever those two little indentations arose, Ilyse knew she had to do something to damp Manon’s mischief or there was no telling what social atrocity, however hysterical it might seem in hindsight—and there had been many—her friend might commit.
“If you’re so interested in peeking, my little sprite, then I have a wonderful surprise for you.”
“I love surprises!” Manon answered with glee.
“You’re going to adore this one. Now, if you really want to peek, you must do it like so.” Ilyse took hold of Manon’s hand and drew back a corner of the curtain so that only a sliver of light shone through. “Look who’s here.”
“Where, where?!” Manon squealed, her eyes roving over the crowded room.
“Why, there in the back. If it isn’t Gaspard and his troupe of provincial darlings! Oh, what fun it will be for you to dance with them. And look! That fat one in the front has seen you! Oh, wave, Manon, wave and show him your smile! Make that Marquis of yours insanely jealous!” Ilyse uttered a musical little fake-laugh and gave Manon a playful shove.
Manon let the curtain fall from her grasp as though it had singed her fingers and stared at Ilyse. “I find your humor lacking, Ilyse” Manon said sourly. “The last time I danced with Gaspard’s band of ruffians I couldn’t walk for a week and my feet will never forgive you for pushing me into that rustic’s arms!”
“Oh, come now, Manon,” Ilyse laughed, “It’s my job to liven things up a bit, too. I can’t let you and your dimples have all the fun.”
“All right, all right,” Manon said, rising to the challenge, “Well, I saw my Marquis, and I saw Gaspard and his bumpkins, God save my feet, but I didn’t see him.”
The instant Ilyse heard this word, all her previous mirth vanished and a terrible mix of anger and fear roiled within her. “Sergei?”
“No…No,” Manon stumbled. “Not him, never him. I meant your ‘one true love,’ of course.”
Ilyse’s brow relaxed and her lips curled into a faint smile as she remembered the little secret she and Manon shared.
“Oh, Manon, for the five years we have known one another, you’ve never missed an opportunity of showing me how hopelessly naïve I actually am. Well, who’s to say he’s not out there? What harm is there in hoping, however futile the hope may be? This nightly ritual is my escape. Don’t begrudge me this little reprieve.”
Manon, usually so effervescent, seemed crushed by her dearest friend’s accusations and blushed with shame. “Ilyse, I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking. I never meant to make light of your feelings. Don’t hold it against me, ma soeur, don’t.”
Regardless of what had passed, Ilyse was incapable of holding a grudge against her confidant and only friend. “I know you meant no harm, Manon. Forgive me for acting so maudlin, it’s just that I feel as though I can’t keep up this charade much longer. If I didn’t have you to make me laugh and be my one light in this darkness, I don’t know how I could’ve survived all these years. He torments me by day with his ceaseless advances, and at night, even while I’m onstage, he finds a way to invade my peace. He’s always there, waiting for me to give in. But I swear I won’t. I don’t fear him as I did before. My fear has been overtaken by anger and turned to defiance. I hate him, Manon. It sickens my heart terribly.” Ilyse lifted her eyes and saw Manon standing motionless, lost in thought. Though she didn’t say a word, Ilyse knew exactly what was racing through Manon’s mind, for she had heard it all before—the painful memories of the past that bore uncanny similarities to the existence Ilyse had described. But in Manon’s circumstances, unspeakable terror had never allowed defiance to surface. She had been an impressionable young girl, dreaming of stardom, allowing him to lead her down a path from which there could be no return. He had robbed her of her fortune, although he was richer than all the kings of Europe combined, and destroyed everything she held dear. She refused his advances, and when she tried to escape, he committed a crime so drastic that she was forced to keep silent or die. Luc Dagenais had been her one true love, and the innocent Provencal had been murdered simply because he had given her his heart—an unpardonable offense in the eyes of her jealous patron. And so the years passed, and Manon fell out of favor, replaced by Gervaise, Collette, Brigitte, and finally Ilyse, who had become his most favorite of all. She had stayed for her dearest friend, and also because La Perle offered her the only respectable means of survival—a cabaret where she could earn a decent living without selling her soul to the devil himself. So was the fate of Manon Larue.
And Ilyse knew the vicious cycle would continue until she herself put a stop to it. But those were thoughts for another moment, for the public would not be kept waiting. The crowd was restless. Violent invectives were being hurled, if the mob were not satisfied, chaos would break loose. The star’s time had come.
Giverne blustered through the line of dancing girls, nearly stampeded Manon into oblivion, and snatched Ilyse by the arm. “You, now,” he boomed, “get onstage!!!” And before she had time to blink, he had already begun to raise the curtain.
“Bonne chance, Ilyse!” Manon squealed, but her voice was drowned by the crowd’s rabid cries.
La Petite Coquette had arrived!
Backstory article about how I became a writer and what Inspired City of Lights
It all started with a song…and Gandalf…
I had never considered turning writing into a career until I read Crime and Punishment when I was a senior in high school. There was just something about that book and the way Dostoevsky “painted with words” that inspired me and made me seriously think about becoming a storyteller. But the real impetus behind my decision came from an elderly wizard with a tall, pointy hat and a long grey beard.
Gandalf and I go way back. It was as I was sitting in a darkened theater in the winter of 2001, my mind totally enthralled by the genius of The Fellowship of the Ring, that I decided what to do with the time that was given to me.
But before I dive into that, how about a little backstory? My love for writing grew out of an early love for reading. I think what led me to this point was that my mother started reading to me when I was in the womb, and my father told me wild, not-exactly-verifiable tall tales while I was still in the cradle. I remember writing little stories and vignettes when I was a very young child and also staging my first play (an adaptation of King of Kings) when I was eight years old. The budget was nonexistent, so my family was conscripted into the production, with my dad and mom playing six parts each. I think that was when the writing bug first reared its head and bit me squarely on the heart. I felt a little like Cecil B. DeMille after that. There is a VHS of the play floating around somewhere. It is one of my first memories of writing.
One turning point I can recall was when I was about eleven or twelve. I wrote a very short story along the lines of Jurassic Park. It was about a brother and sister being chased to the edge of a cliff by a T-Rex. The kids gave the Rex the old “one-two-jump!” fake out and the dinosaur tumbled over the cliff. End of story—happily ever after for everyone except the Rex. But the point was that it was fun! I had actually finished something I’d set out to write! It was great, even though it was only six pages long! You have to start somewhere, right?
Two years later, I decided to write my first novel. I began with a lot of enthusiasm, but soon abandoned the book for school, life, and other projects. In case you were wondering, I finally broke that manuscript out of the attic last July and have since been totally transforming it into a dystopian epic set in a brutal and lawless world. Look for it to be released in the next couple of years. But back to when I was fourteen…though I had set my first novel aside, that gnawing urge to write refused to be ignored. The thing that began to stand out more and more to me as the years wore on, and what I think was the real reason why I truly loved writing so much, was the freedom it gave me to be able to get lost in a different world. I loved creating characters and their individual stories. Everything that a person experiences in his or her life affects the person they become and how they react to situations, so being able to explore this with my characters was something I couldn’t wait to do—uncovering what motivates them, what drives their worldview, why they would make a decision in a particular situation, what makes them tick, etc. And how thrilling would it be when characters developed so fully that they essentially started to write the stories themselves? I wanted to find out!
All these emotions and dreams coalesced into a burning ball of clarity as I sat there watching Gandalf speak that iconic line to Frodo. I was on fire after that, wanting to get started immediately, but college and life intervened, once again, and my idea for a novel about a young singer who took the Paris stage by storm in the late 1800s lay dormant for about a year. One night in December 2002, however, I was puttering around in my room when I suddenly started singing verses of a song I had made up in that moment.
“Tonight’s the last time that I’ll see your face, my love. This dreadful moment has finally come to be. Tonight the passion ends for you and me, my love. I’m traveling to a place where life will be hell for me…good-bye.”
My mind exploded with questions. Who was this girl? Why was she being forced to give up her love? Why would her life be so awful?
From that song, City of Lights: The Trials and Triumphs of Ilyse Charpentier was born. The song became Tonight, the lyrics directly inspiring the novel and making their way into a pivotal scene toward the end of the book. Now, the only thing remaining was a setting. I’m a singer, a Francophile, and a devotee of fin de siècle culture and literature, so the idea of Paris, a cabaret, forbidden love, and the added tension arising from my heroine being estranged from her brother (her only living relative) was too exciting not to pursue.
My grand plan all along was (and still is) for City of Lights to be a musical. In addition to Tonight, I wrote eight other songs that inspired further chapters and the overall story arc, the lyrics of those songs also being adapted into dialogue and scenes. Even though the musical is still on the distant horizon, the spirit of the songs thread through the entire novel. And in case you were wondering, the recordings are securely stored in an undisclosed location, waiting for the day when they will see the light once again. 😉
In May 2003, at the age of eighteen, I began writing Ilyse’s story. Eight months later, City of Lights was complete, and another four years later, it was published. Now, it has been given a totally new look and is making its second edition debut.
Come along and lose yourself in the story. Like Ilyse, I hope you, too, will always believe in the magic of the City of Lights.
I have been an author since the age of fourteen and write Young/New Adult historical romance, suspense, supernatural/paranormal thrillers, fantasy, sci-fi, short stories, novellas—you name it, I write it! I am also a classically trained soprano/violinist/pianist and have been performing since the age of three. Additionally, I hold a BA in Management and an MBA in Marketing.
If I had not decided to become a writer, I would have become a marine biologist, but after countless years spent watching Shark Week, I realized I am very attached to my arms and legs and would rather write sharks into my stories than get up close and personal with those toothy wonders.
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