Take A Coffee Break With Historical Fiction Author Karleen Koen

This morning we spend a coffee break with historical fiction author Karleen Koen, for a special look at how she recreated two of the women in the court of the young French King Louis XIV for her new novel, Before Versailles.

All the women in Before Versailles came from the same short version history always gives women. Nobody bothered to write a thing about them, except in their relationship with the man in their life … in this case Louis XIV. As a woman, it makes me mad. As a writer, it gives me lots and lots of leeway, and that, I like. 

There are two main women in this book, Princess Henriette, sister-in-law to Louis XIV, and Louise de la Baume le Blanc (known historically as Louise de la Valliere). It's remarked that Henriette was greatly liked and that she flirted (a lot). And Henriette had an almost biographer in Madame de La Fayette, one of the first writers who was also female. Louise was known for her shyness and her lack of political skill and her coming out of nowhere to be one of the stars of the early Louis XIV court. No one bothered to write a biography of her in her time, and even now, she is often overlooked.

I like to read as much as I can about actual once-upon-a-time characters and then draw my own conclusions based on what I know and have learned about human nature. I envisioned Henriette with the kind of charisma the late Princess Diana possessed. I also pictured her as loving admiration so much that she had no center, as always wanting to please and be admired. Louise was much harder for me to picture. It was only when I brought the character of the boy in the iron mask into the plot that I began to know Louise … because of her reactions and actions to and around him. It took all the book drafts (at least three) and two revisions before I felt really comfortable being in her skin. 

Before Versailles, as you may or may not have noticed, is dedicated to Louise. She loved the king for who he was, not what he was, and I admired that. But admiration does not flesh out a character. Thank goodness for the boy in the iron mask. 

- Karleen Koen

Want to get a better look at the ladies of Louis XIV’s court? Pick up Before Versailles in stores now!