Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Pilgrim Glass: Director's Commentary

In this penultimate blog post, each of us are doing a Director's Commentary – choosing a scene or chapter and giving you some behind-the-scenes information on our characters and stories.

This is Chapter Five of The Pilgrim Glass.

This was the first full scene I wrote with Dubay. He was not planned in the story, he just kind of appeared (as I talked about in the podcast on secondary characters) and became the heart of the story. I wish I could remember when I wrote this - sometime in 2003, and probably sitting at my makeshift desk in our blazingly hot upstairs apartment, or maybe - like many of the chapters - sitting on an airplane on the way to or from a trade show (I was an events manager at the time). Anyway. I hope you enjoy this introduction to Dubay.

The soft knock on his bedroom door told him it was well past the hour he needed to get up. He rolled over with a grunt and cocooned in the covers against the cool darkness. Blessed silence surrounded him for two minutes. Then another gentle but insistent knock.


This is an Abbot? But of course, in many ways he mirrors the Benedictine Clunaic Abbots (Cluny is just down the road, and a center of power in the early Middle Ages) who were very worldly indeed.

Dubay sighed. "Oui, oui, un moment," he croaked. He threw the covers off and stood quickly, before the urge to lie back down again overtook him. In his years of service to the church, and all his years as a Catholic, he had never quite understood why prayers had to start before dawn. Who do you impress with prayers at 5 a.m.? God? Time doesn't exist for God. But there was no sense in arguing with thousands of years of tradition.

I have to admit, I love this chapter a lot. It’s the first real introduction to Dubay's personality, and frankly it came out of nowhere and made me love him, a lot. It was also the first time I got a hint that there was more to him than simply being an Abbot.

He shuffled to his small bathroom and flicked the single bulb on, squinting against its harshness. He reached in and turned on the shower, then turned to face the small round mirror above the chipped white sink. "Oooof," he muttered, shaking his head. His short-cropped grey hair spiked in odd angles all over his head. He passed a long, thin hand, marked with deep and jagged scars, over his stubbly chin and cursed for the thousandth time the prohibition against beards.

The beard thing just makes me laugh.

After a short and painful interlude with the razor, he stepped into the frigid shower. The cold water wasn't a sign of piety or self-abasement; Dubay simply knew that if he didn't take a cold shower, he'd stand in there all morning, letting the hot water and steam envelop him. Better to get in and out quick and not be tempted. He stepped out, shivering, and pulled the towel around his waist, rushing into his bedroom, which was somewhat warmer.

Who hasn’t stood in the shower, early in the morning before work, so tempted to say "screw it" and just stand there until the hot water runs out? Why would an Abbot be any different? I love how human he is.

"Monseigneur!" A surprised and clearly very frightened novice of his order stood on the threshold of his room, coffee tray in hand.

Dubay choked back a laugh at the look of confusion and embarrassment on his face, but smiled, "Thank you. Right there on the desk is fine."

He has a wicked sense of humor, and I love that. I love that he can both be dedicated to his work and his spirituality, and not lose his sense of humor.

The novice scurried to the well-ordered desk and dropped the coffee tray, spilling cream and rattling silverware. He refused to look the Abbot in the face as he backed toward the door. "I apologize, I had not realized –"

Dubay couldn't quite remember the name of this thin dark-haired young man, who looked as if he had joined them at Vézelay straight out of his nursery. He smiled. "There is nothing to apologize for. You were simply following the instructions of the good Soeur Marie, and have not yet learned that she has a – how shall we say – unique sense of humor." The novice smiled but his eyes darted to the open door to the hallway.

Dubay folded his hands with as much dignity as he could muster standing half-naked in the cold pre-dawn. "Thank you. That will be all," he said gravely.

The novice tried all at once to bow and run out the door. He tripped on his robes, knocked his elbow against the doorframe, and stumbled down the hall, cheeks flaming. Dubay shook his head, snickering, and closed the door.

Dubay is more of a sensualist than anything else, though he honestly and truly loves the church.

He crossed the room to the worn and ancient armoire in the corner. Rows of neatly pressed designer shirts and carefully tailored slacks hung side-by-side with his vestments in the musty closet. He selected a pair of tan linen pants and a crisp white shirt and laid them carefully on the unmade bed, then returned to the drawer, filled with silk polka-dot boxers of every shade. He hummed a passage from Dvorak's New World Symphony as he dressed and poured himself a cup of black coffee, his humming buzzing on the rim of the delicate china.

He and Jonas are more similar than perhaps either might admit.

Dubay set the cup down and pushed the coffee tray and largely undrunk coffee to the side. He pulled his diary toward him and chewed thoughtfully on the cap of his fountain pen. Mmmm... Jean at 1300. Flycatcher this morning. What an odd name.

He flipped through the rest of the week's appointments, then set the diary down and scanned the massive cherrywood bookshelf, which took up an entire wall, and selected a slim burgundy-leather volume. He turned to the first chapter and returned to his chair. As he sat, a small photo slipped from the pages of the book and fluttered to the floor.

What happens when the past you've spent your adult life trying to ignore suddenly reappears? Has the church been his refuge, or his way of escaping his past? Or both?

Dubay stooped to retrieve the photo and gasped. "Oh. Oh," he whispered, dropping into his chair. A young woman, in her early thirties, perhaps, with long, curling black hair grinned at him, the murky Seine flowing lazily in the distance. He turned the photo over with shaking hands.

Michel – je t'aime!
May, 1982.

There was no signature.

Dubay sat staring at the photo, tracing its edges with his thumb, Augustine's Confessions forgotten on the desk. Fifteen minutes later, his alarm clock rang five o'clock. He placed the photo back into the book, downed the rest of his coffee, and bolted out the door.

Why the Confessions? It was the first name that came to me, and I think it was because Augustine too was a sensualist who turned to the church – though of course he saw his past and proclivities as deeply sinful and regrettable. Does Dubay? Check outThe Pilgrim Glass and see what you think.

I hope you enjoyed this sample, and the commentary. It was so fun!

Don't forget to check out Heather and Rima's commentaries at their blogs.

Make sure you check back next week, when we reveal the name of our book giveaway winner!


  1. Dubay ftw! Love him, especially in scenes like this. :D

  2. I love how human he is. We automatically assume that people who devote themselves to religion are somehow not human, for some reason.

  3. Such an amazing feeling when this happens, like the magic of writing has been set aflame. Thanks for sharing the ins and outs of this tremendous character!