God’s Mirror is a historical novel set in 13th century France and India. I imagine the life of French mystic Marguerite Porete, who was burned at the stake for heresy by the Inquisition on 1 June 1310. I first learned of Porete in the spring of 2006, during my first semester at the University of Minnesota. She was such an intriguing figure. I wrote my term paper about her that semester, comparing her treatise to yoga. Although I moved on in my studies and planned out a couple different theses, I could not get Porete out of my mind. I eventually decided that my final project would be on Porete. I was interested in her academically and artistically, but I had to pick between an academic thesis and a creative project. In August 2008, I determined once and for all that I had a story to tell and there was no other way I could do my final project.
I am clearly a glutton for punishment. I had to not only conduct extensive research on Porete and her treatise–a medieval spiritual text–and all the historical, religious, and social contextual work that required, but I also had to invent a life for this woman.
Almost nothing is known about Porete. Her treatise and the Inquisition trial records are all that exist to tell us anything about her. In fact, her work survived its banning by the Church anonymously until 1946 (that’s over 6 centuries after her death) when an Italan scholar, Romana Guernieri put some documents together and righted history.
So, I had lots of room to imagine her life, shaping it as a vehicle for exploring her spiritual text, her life, and her death. But, as any writer who has invented a world–whether fantasy or historical–can attest, it is hard work. Many times I would get mid-sentence and stop, unable to write another word until I knew what to call that woman’s hat. And were pointy toed shoes still fashionable in the 1280s? What was sanitation like in a 13th century city? How fast can a pilgrim travel from Tournai (today it’s in Belguim) to Jerusalem on foot? on horseback? Eventually, I had absorbed enough research to write pretty fluidly. Still, from when I began this project until graduation was only one (insane) year’s time.
If I had to quantify it, I would say I did triple the work I would have if I’d just written an academic thesis.
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