The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel

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9781476778099: The Secret Language of Stones: A Novel

As World War I rages and the Romanov dynasty reaches its sudden, brutal end, a young jewelry maker discovers love, passion, and her own healing powers in this rich and romantic ghost story, the perfect follow-up to M.J. Rose’s “brilliantly crafted” (Providence Journal) novel The Witch of Painted Sorrows.

Nestled within Paris’s historic Palais Royal is a jewelry store unlike any other. La Fantasie Russie is owned by Pavel Orloff, protégé to the famous Faberge, and is known by the city’s fashion elite as the place to find the rarest of gemstones and the most unique designs. But war has transformed Paris from a city of style and romance to a place of fear and mourning. In the summer of 1918, places where lovers used to walk, widows now wander alone.

So it is from La Fantasie Russie’s workshop that young, ambitious Opaline Duplessi now spends her time making trench watches for soldiers at the front, as well as mourning jewelry for the mothers, wives, and lovers of those who have fallen. People say that Opaline’s creations are magical. But magic is a word Opaline would rather not use. The concept is too closely associated with her mother Sandrine, who practices the dark arts passed down from their ancestor La Lune, one of sixteenth century Paris’s most famous courtesans.

But Opaline does have a rare gift even she can’t deny, a form of lithomancy that allows her to translate the energy emanating from stones. Certain gemstones, combined with a personal item, such as a lock of hair, enable her to receive messages from beyond the grave. In her mind, she is no mystic, but merely a messenger, giving voice to soldiers who died before they were able to properly express themselves to loved ones. Until one day, one of these fallen soldiers communicates a message—directly to her.

So begins a dangerous journey that will take Opaline into the darkest corners of wartime Paris and across the English Channel, where the exiled Romanov dowager empress is waiting to discover the fate of her family. Full of romance, seduction, and a love so powerful it reaches beyond the grave, The Secret Language of Stones is yet another “spellbindingly haunting” (Suspense magazine), “entrancing read that will long be savored” (Library Journal, starred review).

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Review:

Q&A with M.J. Rose and Susanna Kearsley

MJ Rose

Photo Credit: Mario Morgado

Susanna Kearsley

Photo Credit: Kerri Ungureit

New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Susanna Kearsley interviews M.J. Rose about her latest unforgettable novel, The Secret Language of Stones.

Susanna: You’ve been thrilling us with your stories since 1998, and for the past eight years, beginning with The Reincarnationist, you’ve been weaving these wonderfully rich tapestries of past and present lives together—these books that explore, as you’ve put it yourself, who we were and how it impacts who we are. And there’s this really deep mysticism to this, this beautiful sense that we’re moving through something that’s greater than we are, that we get to love those we’ve loved before over again, that no loss is forever. I wonder, how much of this mysticism do you think is the legacy of your own family’s history—of who you were, so to speak, and where you came from?

M.J.: What a marvelous question and so thoughtful and beautiful, thank you for your sensitivity to my work. Mysticism has deep meaning to me that goes back to my great grandfather who was a Kabbalist scholar and his wife, my great grandmother who was a self-proclaimed witch and fortune teller. He believed in reincarnation, she believed in magic. And then there was my mother—their grandchild—whose own parents divorced when she was only one and half years old. She went to live with her father and had a very troubled and sporadic relationship with her mother. A schism which caused her great sadness and instilled in her a very deep fear of loss. They say that we can inherit our parent's neuroses - either organically in our DNA or by the way we are nurtured. Either way I have, since childhood, for no logical reason, had a horrible fear of losing those I love. So I think part of my story telling is my telling myself that there is indeed magic and mystery in the world and that we never really lose those we love. My mother died before I finished my first novel, and that is the greatest loss I've ever endured. Perhaps I'm still trying to reassure myself that we'll all find each other again.

Susanna: If it helps, I believe that myself. I think it’s the connections between us that truly transcend space and time. One of the things you do to connect with your characters is something I think is so great—you create a whole scrapbook for your hero or heroine, before you ever start to tell their story. Can you maybe elaborate a bit on this process, and how it helps you, and share a few items from Opaline’s scrapbook?

M.J.: My scrapbooks have two purposes. During the two to three months before I start writing a novel I need to do research. During that period I also make a scrapbook for my main character. It looks like I'm having fun creating collages and doing an arts and crafts project. But what I'm really doing is procrastinating my way into the plot of the book. Everything is percolating in my mind as I search for images, cut and paste, make notes... Creating characters out of thin air—or my imagination— always strikes fear in my heart and it’s enormously helpful for me to ground them in objects and pictures and poems and scraps of ephemera that I imagine meant something to them. Opaline's scrapbook is a bit different from the others. First because it’s not a journal but a sketch book and instead of found objects it’s filled with designs I created of the jewelry I imagined she designed. Each one is done with pencils I bought in Paris at the same art supply store that Opaline's mother had first visited when she arrived in that city in 1894.

Susanna: That is so cool. And I love that the pencils you used came from Paris. From your earliest books, which were set in New York, the cities your stories take place in are very much characters themselves. Paris seems to be becoming one of your favorite “characters”. What is it about that city that inspires you and draws you to it?

M.J.: My great grandmother was born in Paris and lived there as a young girl and I heard stories about the city and its artists and its beauty and fell in love with it before I ever saw it. I visited for the first time when I was fourteen and simply felt at home there. As if I belonged. And every time I returned I felt it more and more. It's the city of my soul—like those neurosis we possibly inherit—I think we can inherit affinities also.

Susanna: I’d certainly agree with you there. I’ve had that experience myself with locations—as though I’m returning to a place instead of visiting it for the first time—and on a couple of occasions I’ve learned that I had ancestors who lived in those places and knew them well. So we have that in common! In fact, while all writers write differently, you and I have many things in common, right down to our love of art, our obsession with movies, and the way we both feel our way into our novels and let our characters lead us through their tales. I know in my case this often ends up with my being led places I didn’t expect to be taken. Did any of the characters in this book really surprise you?

M.J.: It's so wonderful to be interviewed by someone whose books I've read and loved. Despite our similarities—and there are so many—you always take me on a journey that surprises (and delights and absorbs) me. And yes, my characters to that to me when I'm writing as well. In this novel the main character, Opaline, finds long since published columns the soldier Jean Luc wrote from the Front for a French newspaper. In each he suggests a walk he wishes he could take in Paris, with an unnamed lover. I planned every step of each of those walks for the first draft of my book and then went to Paris before I started my second draft. In addition to attending jewelry school to make sure I got that aspect Opaline’s life correct, I also took each of those walks just to make sure I had the specifics of the details right. But in every case, Jean Luc led me somewhere I didn't expect and not a single walk turned out as I'd intended. Neither did the end. The whole time I was writing I assumed a totally different finale but Jean Luc surprised me there as well. I still can't read the end of the book without crying.

Susanna: Aw. I LOVED the ending of this book. It was so perfect. (And it made me cry, too). So I’m glad Jean Luc went his own way with that part of the story, and I thank him—and you—for that. Thanks, too, for those very kind words about my own books. If they give you half the enjoyment yours give me, then I’m happy. I want to ask you something a little more personal now—it’s a question I’ve been wondering about my own work ever since I watched the actor (and screenwriter) Joel Edgerton giving an interview in which he said something that struck a chord in me—he said, "A lot of writers keep visiting the same material; it's like they're trying to answer or work out the same problem, and a lot of them won't even know it, until someone reflects it to them." And I think that’s probably true. What problem do you think you're trying to work out or find the answer to in your own writing?

M.J.: I think my main characters are all people who’ve cut themselves off emotionally for one reason or another. As a result, they’re not living complete lives and haven’t individuated. My novels start with them in that place -- in the dark, and then by the end of the story they have been brought into a place of some light. I am consumed by secrets—I crave them. In real life too, I hate knowing someone only on the surface and not knowing who they are underneath. As a result, I’m very bad at small talk and cocktail parties.

Susanna: Well I, for one, am glad of that, because it’s your drive to uncover those secrets that gives us these marvelous people to read about. In fact, speaking of bringing people into the light, I’ve noticed that usually there’s some minor character hovering around the fringes of one novel who becomes the focus of your next novel, as if you’ve noticed them there, too, and they’ve just been patiently waiting to catch your attention so you’ll follow them into their story. So...who caught your eye in this book? Is there someone we’re going to be following into the next of your novels?

M.J.: Funny you noticed that! Yes, as I'm writing I do often find a minor character really interesting and find myself jotting down notes about them to save for the future. In this book twice Opaline refers to her younger brother and sister who are twins. The next book will be out their adventure into a world of secrets shadows and finally some light.

Susanna: I’ll look forward to that one! In the meantime, thanks so much for allowing me this early look at The Secret Language of Stones. It’s a beautiful, thrilling, and memorable tale, and I know that it’s going to captivate readers. (Now, go get to work on the next one!)

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author M. J. Rose grew up in New York City exploring the labyrinthine galleries of the Metropolitan Museum and the dark tunnels and lush gardens of Central Park. She is the author of more than a dozen novels, the co-president and founding board member of International Thriller Writers, and the founder of the first marketing company for authors, AuthorBuzz.com. She lives in Greenwich, Connecticut. Visit her online at MJRose.com.  

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