Archive for the 'Author Interviews' Category

Mastering the Art of French Eating (+ Giveaway!)

Last week I celebrated Thanksgiving in the US with my family for the first time in years. Since moving to Paris, I’ve enjoyed mixing cultural traditions. Franco-international-expat-American Thanksgivings have become my new norm – what fun!

Still, in a year of many blessings, it was a gift to spend this holiday with my family. And oh the food! I’m not sure gourmandise would be the right word for what went down as it was outright gluttony. I literally cannot remember the last time I saw (and ate) so much food. The dessert table alone was outrageous(ly good). There was pumpkin pie and pecan pie and apple pie and cheesecake and cookies and and and….

Mastering the Art of French EatingA long holiday weekend wouldn’t be complete without tucking into a good book, as well. I read a great one and I’m so excited I get to offer a free giveaway copy to one of you, too.

When journalist Ann Mah’s diplomat husband receives a three-year assignment in Paris it is a dream come true. He’s suddenly called to a new post in Iraq, however, changing drastically Mah’s reality of a new life in the City of Light.

Mastering the Art of French Eating blends food, travel, and gastronomic history. It’s a lovely memoir that explores the stories behind many of France’s signature regional dishes, from crepes to cassoulet, choucroute to boeuf bourguignon. It’s also a personal story of navigating a new country, battling loneliness, and learning lessons in both food and love.

The book has already gained much buzz, including being named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon and a best fall travel book by National Geographic Traveler. I’m delighted to offer a free copy to one lucky reader and to have Ann Mah on the blog for the occasion.

Continue reading ‘Mastering the Art of French Eating (+ Giveaway!)’

Quiet Paris (Giveaway!)

Quiet ParisAs if in answer to my pleas, the sun finally appeared in Paris this week. Starting Sunday, spring burst forth fully formed. The city sighed collective relief.

The long walks I alluded to last post obviously bring even more joy now.

In a bout of perfect timing, I also received a new guidebook that champions the wandering approach. The introduction to Siobhan Wall’s Quiet Paris has her musing: “walking around, I wondered whether we are now less familiar with losing our way and coming across places by benign accident rather than preordained design.”

Wall seeks the calmer side to cities, you see, places off the beaten track. Previously she has produced Quiet London and Quiet Amsterdam. But is it really possible to escape the hustle and bustle in Paris, the world’s most popular tourist destination?

I always approach anything promising a “secret” City of Light with a slice of skepticism. Luckily, this sweet little pocket guide soon swiped away any hesitation. It delivers.

While some old standbys certainly appear (the elevated leafy walkway known as the Promenade Plantee was packed this weekend, for instance; ditto, I imagine, Parc Buttes Chaumont), plenty of entries were new to me (the Musee Bourdelle in the fifteenth? The Bibliotheque Marguerite Durand devoted to French women and feminism?)

Author Siobhan Wall

Author Siobhan Wall

After the elegant intro, the guide is divided into 12 sections: museums, libraries, parks & gardens, places to relax, places to worship, shops, restaurants, cafes, bookshops, galleries, cultural centers, and places to stay. At the end is a handy index of places by arrondissement. There are more than 120 listings in all.

Continue reading ‘Quiet Paris (Giveaway!)’

*GIVEAWAY!* The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo

The Black Count by Tom ReissInvoke the name Alexandre Dumas, and one might inquire, père or fils? (Father or son?) Alexandre Dumas père was the novelist behind The Three Muskateers and The Count of Monte Cristo and his son, Alexandre Dumas fils, was also a writer and playwright.

There is another Alexandre Dumas, however. One who history has largely forgotten, though his story is truly the stuff of legend.

Forgotten until now.

Tom Reiss has recently published a soaring account of Dumas (the father of Alexandre Dumas père) in what is sure to become a definitive volume.

The Black Count is a tour-de-force, an ambitious and awe-inspiring tale of a man born into slavery who eventually rose to become a four-star general and a hero of the French Revolution.

Dumas’ audacious exploits in battle – including almost single-handedly pushing back the Austrians in the Battle of the Alps as well as commanding more than 50,000 men – would later inspire his son to write his famous books. So would Dumas’ years slowly being poisoned in an Italian prison after being captured; Napoleon ultimately betrayed the bravest of military men by letting him languish there and worse.

Author Tom Reiss (photo by Aventurina King 2008)

Epic biographies aren’t my usual reading fare, but this book may change all that. The Black Count was absolutely riveting, combining the thrills of a great adventure story with the concrete fact and context of the best historical work. I myself was in a battle between reading so quickly because I couldn’t wait to turn the next page and trying to slow down to absorb the enormous amount of information contained within. I literally felt I was learning something new on each page.

From France’s brutal slavery regime in Saint Domingue (now present day Haiti) where Dumas was born up through the French Revolution and Napoleon’s dreams of empire after, Reiss expertly takes us through a complicated, layered history to create a vivid portrait of the late 18th century. From the large scale issues of how Dumas, a mixed-race man, negotiated his life in a society whose rules regarding race were rapidly evolving, down to the smallest of details including why wearing black became fashionable in Paris, Reiss seems to have left no stone unturned.

If this weren’t all meticulously researched fact, it would be hard to believe such tales were true. I found myself gasping at much of what I read!

I am DELIGHTED to be able to offer a giveaway copy of The Black Count (courtesy of Crown Publishers) to one lucky reader so that you, too, may gasp.

Leave a comment below by 1 PM EST Friday, October 5 for your chance to win. I will randomly select a winner by drawing names out of a hat.

If you don’t win the copy, please do yourself a favor and pick up this book anyway. It was engrossing, illuminating, and a tiny bit heartbreaking. It’s always so wonderful when a book can crack open more of the world.

Read an excerpt from The Black Count here.

UPDATE! The name has been picked from the hat! Congratulations, William Sandles! Thank you to everyone who entered.

Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down

Paris I love you but you're bringing me downWhen I first heard the title Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down, I felt an instant connection. Heck, that could be an alternate name for this blog. (If I weren’t so fond of my cute parentheses, that is).

After being offered the opportunity to work for an advertising agency in the City of Light, author Rosecrans Baldwin leapt at the chance – despite the fact that he had no previous experience in advertising and could barely speak French.

As you might imagine, hilarity ensued.

I was eager to get my hands on Baldwin’s memoir about the 18 months he and his wife spent here and am excited to welcome him to the blog today.

Rosecrans Baldwin is also the author of the novel You Lost Me There, named one of NPR’s Best Books of 2010, and is the cofounder of the online magazine The Morning News.

So many books have been written about Paris. What made you want to tackle one, too ? What do you feel you had to add?

The honest answer is I’ve never thought about my book as being one about Paris. That’s more a marketing category. I mean, it is about Paris, obviously. But it’s far more about Parisians: my co-workers, our friends. So hopefully it’s a different sort of beast. At one point, the cover had an Eiffel Tower on it, and both my editor and I realized how wrong it looked. And not that I have anything against the Eiffel Tower. I’ve read the Paris canon, admired so many of the books, especially the underdogs—Elaine Dundy’s Dud Avocado, Mavis Gallant’s Paris Stories, The Invention of Paris by Eric Hazan. But you can’t spend a couple years writing a book, doing the work each morning, if you’re thinking about what the result should or should not be, what you’re going to add, whom you’re going to please. At least I can’t imagine doing that—it sounds awful!

Your book contains many humorous incidents, the inevitable misunderstandings and frustrations that come with confronting another culture and one with a language barrier to boot. Did you experience these as funny at the time or does it take hindsight to appreciate all that happens when living as a foreigner in Paris?

Continue reading ‘Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down’

Passing Love

In 1999, after years of working in the corporate world, Jacqueline Luckett took a creative writing class on a dare.

She hasn’t looked back since.

Now the author of two novels and a core member of a writers group featured in O Magazine, Luckett is an inspiration for those wondering about the possibilities of their lives. “I’ve finally begun to understand that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get around to fulfilling your dream,” she writes in a blog post discussing her love of Paris and writing, “just as long as we have them and try our best to fulfill them.”

Both of Luckett’s novels – Searching for Tina Turner and this year’s Passing Love – center on women seeking a change. I think you’ll agree that Luckett proves it’s never too late to chase what you want – and that it’s the journey that counts.

Thanks so much to Jackie for coming on the blog today.

Your protagonist, Nicole, dreamed about Paris since the time she was a little girl, yet doesn’t make it to the city until she’s in her mid-50s. For you, what is it about Paris that inspires people to dream? And why were you drawn to set the novel here?

I’ve been in love with Paris for a long time, yet I never pushed myself to visit. I wasn’t adventurous in my twenties and I kept waiting for someone to go with me. That’s partly the basis for Nicole’s failure to fulfill her promise. But she served the old adage—“Better late than never”—quite well.

My mother told me after reading Passing Love, that she always thought I was a natural dreamer and drama queen. Though I’ve never thought of myself that way, Paris inspires me to express what my mother seems to have known all along. Why not?! I love the anonymity I have when I’m in Paris. No one cares what I do, what I wear, or what I look like, and I feel a freedom that’s different from when I’m at home in California.

For Americans, particularly those of us on the West Coast, Paris with its old buildings, its streets cobbled with stones that have been there for decades, if not centuries, is very different from where we live. Sure, there are old buildings in the United States, but in California they don’t date much before the 19th Century. So we’re in awe of what we see in Paris. Movies, books and photographs have fed our curiosity and set our expectations about Paris. So much so that I think we go there prepared to do and be different from our everyday selves.

We gawk at the towering peaks of Notre Dame and wonder about The Hunchback. If it’s raining, we conjure up Gene Kelly dancing in the rain. Or Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier playing jazz in Paris nightclubs. We let our imaginations run free as we wander about the city admiring the fashions, eating the food, listening to French and wishing we’d paid more attention to our high school French teachers.

Because Paris is so culturally different than U.S. cities, it spurs new thoughts and behaviors. It sparks our imaginations because our senses are constantly presented with new images, sounds, and smells: rose petals scattered on a florist’s floor, an afternoon of people-watching and sipping espresso at an outdoor café—especially if it’s a café as well-known as Café Aux Deux Magots. There we imagine what life must have been like for the American authors who sat in those caned chairs writing novels and poetry.

In Passing Love, I wanted to write a story about women who challenged themselves to step beyond ordinary. Sure, this could have happened in any other city. Truthfully, because of my affection for (and emotional connection to) Paris, it was the logical place for my characters to be.

Continue reading ‘Passing Love’

An Unexpected Guest

Anne Korkeakivi

Anne Korkeakivi is an American writer currently living in Switzerland, with previous stints in France and Finland. Her short fiction has appeared in several venues including The Atlantic and The Yale Review and she’s spent many years as a freelance journalist with articles in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Times, just to name a few.

Her first novel, An Unexpected Guest, was published in April of this year and is garnering much praise. I’ve had the pleasure of reading this fine debut (devoured it, really!) and am delighted Anne took the time to answer a few questions for me in advance of her Paris reading at WH Smith this Thursday, May 31.

I think many readers will enjoy this page-turner as it’s set in Paris, features a taut, well-paced plot, and raises questions of how we reconcile past and present, private and public in a fraught global climate.

The entire present action of your novel takes place in less than 24 hours. This compressed time frame lends a delicious tension to the book. How did you come up with the idea for this book? Were you influenced by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway which also uses the organization of a single night’s dinner party to plumb deeper waters?

The idea for An Unexpected Guest came to me while on a visit to Paris in the mid-2000s. I was walking down the Rue de Varenne thinking over the day’s headlines, which were rife with worries over terrorism and with political scandals, and I thought: what would happen if the spouse of one of these politicians was caught out with a terrible secret? At some point early on, I recognized the similarity between the story forming in my head and how, in Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf managed to talk so profoundly about post-WWI malaise while writing about something as seemingly commonplace as putting on a dinner party.

So, yes, I felt privileged to be able to pay homage to that. Virginia Woolf was a genius. But, when it comes down to it, the twenty-four hour timeline is really handy. As you say, it abets the tension, and it also gave me a clear structure within which to work. And, very importantly, it supports the suggestion that every day can be a microcosm of either every day before it or every day after. The book talks a lot about making choices.

The protagonist, Clare, has mastered the art of maintaining appearances after 20 years of marriage to a high-ranking diplomat but has been haunted by a secret the entire time. William Faulkner famously said that good writing features “the human heart in conflict with itself” and I think you apply that here with Clare’s troubled consciousness. Can you talk about what you hoped to achieve though the character of Clare?

Continue reading ‘An Unexpected Guest’

“The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris”

John Baxter is an acclaimed Australian-born writer, journalist, and filmmaker who has made his home in Paris since 1989. His career successfully spans several different genres and mediums from science fiction to screenwriting, documentaries to memoir.

Baxter is a bibliophile (the first of his memoirs written in Paris was A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict) and a serious movie buff. He’s authored several biographies of famed film luminaries including Federico Fellini, Steven Spielberg, Stanley Kubrick, and Robert De Niro, just to name a few.

Baxter’s latest work, out this month from Short Books, is The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris. Composed of 37 chapters, each elegantly linked to the next, the book is a delightful stroll through the city, its history, and the author’s own observations about his adopted home.

What I particularly liked was Baxter’s seamless weaving of personal anecdotes with fascinating facts, a fluid prose that makes it one of the most pleasurable Paris books I’ve read in a long time. His love of the city comes through, as well as his wit and intelligence. A vignette might evoke Paris’ classic beauty (Luxembourg Gardens, for example), but is just as likely to veer into lesser known terrain (mass murderer Henri Désiré Landru who often met his victims in those very same gardens!) Hemingway haunts, opium dens, “political walks” (manifs) – Baxter covers wide ground. I also liked his asides (“Not great laughers, the French…Interestingly, there’s no French equivalent of the phrase ‘bedside manner.’” That one gave me a chuckle).

Explaining that my blog is called “paris (im)perfect” because I like the quirky and offbeat and because the imperfect is a verb tense used for recounting stories, I asked John Baxter if he’d be willing to write about one of his strolls off the beaten path. Happily he agreed! I’m so pleased to be able to share an original piece by him here. He also provided the photos.

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John Baxter

Plastered on the haunch of the butte of Montmartre, the 18th arrondissement is off the beaten track, with an architecture and lifestyle all its own. Along rue Marcadet, diamond-shaped lots from the days when these were market gardens or guinguettes have dictated apartment blocks with parallelogram floor plans. What does it do to your brain, to live in a room with no right angles? Maybe it accounts for the pale faces that stare out from a few windows; shut-ins, with nothing to do but watch the world go by.

Caught in the gaps between these crooked habitations, like bits of gristle in a set of crooked teeth, businesses survive that you seldom see in more prosperous districts; plumbing supply shops, shoe repairers, furniture movers, moulders of false teeth.

And probably undertakers too, along with makers of funerary monuments. The Montmartrois joke that once you visit the dixhuitieme, you stay forever – because it’s the arrondissement with the largest number of graveyards.

Continue reading ‘“The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris”’

Author Interview: Sophie Hardach

Author and journalist Sophie Hardach on the Turkish-Syrian border

Sophie Hardach wrote The Registrar’s Manual for Detecting Forced Marriages while working as a reporter for Reuters in Paris. The novel follows the intertwining lives of a young Kurdish boy trying to build a life in Germany and a registrar working at a Parisian town hall.

If that sounds like an unlikely combination, I can assure you the result is equally as surprising. While grappling with issues of immigration, identity, love, and marriage, the book also displays an unexpected humor that made it a pleasure to read.

As with some of my favorite discoveries, I didn’t know much about the author or the story going in. I was delighted to first hear Sophie speak at the American Library and then delve into her delightful debut. Both her talk and her book sparkled.

On the occasion of the paperback release of The Registrar’s Manual next Thursday, March 29, I’m pleased to have Sophie on the blog today to answer a few questions.

You’re German, live in France, and write in English. Wow! How does this trilingual mix influence your work? And why did English become the language of your creative self?

I fell in love with English literature as a teenager, and unlike most teenage love affairs, this one turned into a lifelong passion. English is my ideal home: a place where everyone is welcome, where writers from countries as far apart as Nigeria, Ireland, the U.S. and Singapore – to name just a random few – mingle and contribute. I can think of no other language today that is so open to new influences, so ready to absorb new trends.

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Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)

Aurelia d'Andrea (photo by Sophia Pagan)

When my (crazy) idea of moving to France first came to me ’round about 2005/2006, there weren’t that many practical guides explaining how to make it happen. I found books with titles like “Working and Living in France,” but these were inevitably written largely by and for UK residents.

As all of my North American expat friends can attest, a vastly different set of challenges face those not already wielding an EU-passport.

That’s why it’s lovely to see a new book (released Valentine’s Day – aww) written for a more North American audience.

Aurelia d’Andrea is a freelance writer, former magazine editor, and professional Parisian dog walker (!) who has put together a useful guide to Living Abroad in France (conveniently, that is the title of the book, too!)

D’Andrea hails from San Francisco, but has successfully navigated two different long-term stays in France. Her book covers everything from planning a fact-finding trip to moving with pets, the different types of visas and their associated requirements to renting or buying an apartment.

The guidebook is engaging and accessible and packed full of resources. Besides admiring the work it takes to put together such a guide, I’m also relieved to have an easy title to point to now when others ask me how they too can live in la belle France. “Get this book,” I can now say. (Phew, I’m off the hook!)

It takes real perseverance to make the dream of living in France a reality, but as d’Andrea proves – it’s possible. And so worth it.

I’m happy Aurelia agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.

I was stunned to learn that you researched and wrote this entire book from scratch under a very tight deadline. The book gives an overview of everything from French government to getting your kids into school, handling administrative hurdles to mapping regional geography. How in the heck do you even approach putting together such an extensive guide on such a large topic as “Living Abroad in France”?

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)’

Author Interview: Amy Thomas of ‘Paris, My Sweet’

Amy Thomas (photo by Lindsey Tramuta)

I always love tucking into a new book, but there’s an extra special thrill when the author is a friend. I was delighted (and amazed! and overwhelmingly happy!) when I received my review copy of Paris, My Sweet: A Year in the City of Light (and Dark Chocolate) by the très-talented Amy Thomas. Her book just came out February 1.

Besides being a successful advertising copywriter, popular blogger, and oft-published journalist with articles in The New York Times and National Geographic Traveler, Amy is also a self-described Sweet Freak. Her book winds its way through the City of Light in search of perfect pastries and also points us to the best sugary addresses in the Big Apple, too.

What I really adored about Amy’s book, however, was how seamlessly she wove her own personal journey alongside her quest for the tastiest of treats. This is a memoir, you see, and it delves into the sometimes bittersweet realities of being a fish out of water – even when land is Paris and so heartbreakingly beautiful.

Any expat will relate to the excitement and challenges of finding yourself in a new place.

And anyone with a sweet tooth will agree Amy makes a great case for eating dessert for dinner. I devoured her book in two days.

I am thrilled that Amy was willing to answer a few questions today.

Amy, we both share a common condition: we are in love with both Paris and New York! This yearning for one place while living in the other takes up a large part of your book. How do you reconcile having these two loves now?

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Amy Thomas of ‘Paris, My Sweet’’


paris (im)perfect?

Sion Dayson is paris (im)perfect. Writer, dreamer, I moved to France on – no exaggerating – a romantic whim. As you can imagine, a lot can go wrong (and very right!) with such a (non)plan. These are the (im)perfect stories that result.

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