Cal U professor Dr. Carole Waterhouse releases new novel
Many writers structure their novels using a narrative pattern known as The Hero’s Journey, a term first coined by scholar Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. According to Campbell, in this journey, “a hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
This pattern is so prevalent in fiction, it’s the subject of countless workshops at writers’ conferences and more than a few seminars in graduate professional writing programs.
While many if not most writers of fiction follow this structure when plotting their works, only some are fortunate enough to embark on their own journeys in the process. Carole Waterhouse, author of the recently released Shadows of an Empress, counts herself among the blessed.
“The journey of 1,000 miles begins with a single step,” said the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. Waterhouse took her “single step” over ten years ago in Hapsburg, Austria while visiting the Imperial residence, when she first glanced a portrait of the Empress Elisabeth.
“I was standing in front of her portrait, fascinated. It was just so different,” Waterhouse said. She added the painting, rendered by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1865, has had that same mesmerizing effect on visitors for over 100 years.
Fascinating is a good word to describe the Empress Elisabeth, an early champion of women’s issues whose tumultuous life ended in tragedy, her living years deeply marred by the same. Still, her love of travel and horses helped sustain her during her darker years, and it’s those affinities Waterhouse related to upon learning more about Austria’s longest serving Empress-consort, whose friends called her Sissi.
“She was ahead of her time and full of contradictions,” Waterhouse said. “I never felt that connection before with another historical figure.”
Another kinship she felt with “Sissi” was their shared talent for penning terrible poetry.
“She was a dreadful poet,” Waterhouse said. “In high school, I wrote really awful poetry.”
From the moment Waterhouse laid eyes on the image of the enigmatic Empress, she said she became “almost obsessed” with discovering more about her. The idea for Shadows of an Empress evolved as Waterhouse followed what’s referred to as the “Sissi Trail,” the same route Sissi took during her life’s travels.
“The story kept changing as I traveled,” Waterhouse said. “It sounds cliche to say I was finding myself as I followed her but that’s what happened.”
Speaking of the story, the book jacket for Shadows of an Empress, a novel released by Anaphora Press on June 22, 2016, describes the tale thus: “When a recurring dream about a city she can’t identify leaves Sylvia feeling unsettled and restless, she suddenly awakens one night to find the Empress Elisabeth of Austria, dressed in black, sitting in her living room. Suspecting their lives are somehow linked, but unable to find the answers in Sylvia’s daily life, they embark on a whirlwind tour of places related to the empress’s past, this time led by Sissi, Elisabeth’s younger version. Along the way, the Archduchess Sophie arranges a courtship between Sylvia and Franz Joseph, a heart-broken Heinrich Heine laments the empress’s tendency to credit him for her awful poetry, and Sigmund Freud offers commentary on their journey.”
During one of Waterhouse’s journeys, she visited the Empress’s summer residence at Bad Ischl, where she had an unusual encounter.
“It was during the off season, and I showed up too early. I met a very nice, dapper older gentleman who walked with me through the gardens and was very knowledgeable about the history of the residence. Later, during the tour, I asked a guide for the man’s name, and she told me most people referred to him as ‘Your Highness’ or ‘Your Majesty’ as he was actually a member of the royal family. I was so embarrassed. I mistook him for a janitor,” Waterhouse said.
Waterhouse categorizes the novel as a mix of historical fiction and magical realism. Shadows of an Empress is her third novel. She’s also the author of Tapestry Baby and Without Wings, as well as the story collection, Paradise Ranch. A professor of creative writing at California University of PA, she said her teaching career impacts her own writing process.
“I tend to be more inspired in the morning,” she said, which isn’t ideal when she has morning classes. “Teaching comes first, so I have to play catch up [on writing] between semesters.”
Because her writing time is so limited, she frequently edits and revises her work while she’s writing it. She has other habits, as well.
“I can’t write on a computer,” she said, and prefers to write long hand, her medium of choice a college ruled notebook. She also said she writes “sprawled out on the floor.”
Waterhouse isn’t a meticulous plotter, but values organization.
“I don’t do outlines, but [at the end of each writing day], I always have to have a beginning point for the next day.”
She said she felt called to the writing profession early in life.
“I knew very early on that I would be a writer. As a child, I wrote short stories, and I had a very understanding 4th grade teacher who encouraged me,” she said.
She still writes short stories, calling them “the genre I love and will focus on in the future.”
Asked what advice she has for aspiring writers, she said, “Writing takes a lot of time, and you have to write because you enjoy writing.”
Shadows of an Empress is available on Amazon.com and at the publisher’s site.
Story by Carla E. Anderton for Pennsylvania Bridges