Inspired by the neglected 19th-century woman sculptor Camille Claudel—known, if at all, as Auguste Rodin’s model and muse—Betsy Franco spins an elaborate fantasy in Naked (Tyrus, Nov.), her debut adult novel. The story revolves around a tortured young woman who struggles free from stone to come to life, and a young man with problems of his own who becomes involved with her as both make efforts to understand their lives. Much of Naked takes place in the Rodin Sculpture Garden at Stanford University in Franco’s home town of Palo Alto, Calif.
“I wanted to set a novel in the garden,” Franco says. “A young friend of mine, a dance major, did a performance there. She picked out a sculpture and brought it to life, moving the way the sculpture would move. I thought, the spirit of one of these sculptures could come to life. Many of the statues in the garden were inspired by Camille Claudel, who had a dark history. I wanted to bring her to life to let people know about her but also to let her heal from all the darkness that happened to her. I researched the book heavily in terms of Camille’s life, but it is all fictionalized.”
Franco has written many books for children, as well as plays and screenplays—she’s even done some movie acting—but she took her editor’s challenge to write for an adult audience. “What a freeing experience to be able to say whatever I wanted!” she says. “I’m uncensored anyway, but somehow knowing I was writing for adults opened doors I didn’t even realize weren’t opened. I have already started another novel for adults. All these ideas came rushing forward.”
Most satisfying about the novel, Franco says, is that it brought together so much of what she is interested in: “my past, my present, my knowledge of young men, of art.” Two of Franco’s three sons helped directly with the book: Tom, a sculptor, did the artwork for the cover, and James—yes, the actor—introduced her to performance art.
Camille Claudel helped her, too, she says. “So many women in history didn’t get their due because they were born in an age that didn’t understand them. They didn’t have a path to follow. Camille was really revolutionary. She made a path for other women artists. It broke my heart, the darkness of her story, and I wanted to do something to help her.”
Betsy Franco signs galleys of Naked today, 1–1:30 p.m., at Table 18 in the Autographing Area.