Kristin Espinasse is the writer behind the popular French-Word-A-Day blog and the author of Words in a French Life. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kristin in Paris a few times now and can report she is just as warm and wonderful in person as she is on the web.
Thanks to Kristin for answering a few of my questions.
You’ve created your own unique style of writing – real-life vignettes infused with French vocabulary. I would recognize a Kristin Espinasse story anywhere! How did the idea for French-Word-A-Day come about and how has it evolved over the years?
Thank you, Sion! The idea for French Word-A-Day came about when I was looking for a way into freelance writing. Only, how to be found in the vastness of cyberspace? Some sort of big sign post out in front of one’s internet doorstep might help… Something that would attract readers! Because the stories are steeped in French life, it meant that Francophiles were a good target! And any Francophile worth his/her salt was surely busy learning French–or should be–n’est-ce pas? Like that, French Word-A-Day came about.
As far as evolving… whereas the site was originally designed to be a writing portfolio (story samples for editors who might then commission an article), it is now a journal and a book of its own!
Your blog has been running strong since 2002 with daily posting (now thrice-weekly) delivered consistently to readers – you are obviously disciplined! How do you maintain that discipline, when I would imagine there are a million lovely distractions in your beautiful neck of the woods (a vineyard in Provence!)
Early on I decided to make writing and editing French Word-A-Day a full-time job. This is the secret! in order to keep the site going, I gave up my own job as secretary/saleswoman/tour guide/janitor at a vineyard. (I had a few sponsors at the time, which helped justify the plunge!)
You are a keen observer of detail and spin tales from the every-day goings on of your life in France. Do you think being a “foreigner in a strange land,” as it were, makes you especially attuned to notice these details? Or have you always enjoyed this mode of observing the world? In any case, it’s a crucial skill for any writer! Is there a sense of yourself as an insider/outsider, in a way, that influences your writing?
I don’t seem to notice enough (it seems, to me). Having an “armchair travelling audience” has made me pay more attention to my surroundings and, as you say, so has living in a foreign land. Whereas I once walked right past a cactus (in my native Arizona), walking past a French door dressed in beads and flanked with tumble-down chairs and flowerpots just doesn’t have the same non-effect. (Note: these days I would never walk nonchalantly past a cactus!)
The French word for foreigner is étranger. Perhaps being a perpetual “stranger” in a foreign land means forever perceiving things as “new”. This can only help a writer: to never dull to her surroundings… or to pretend not to!
You self-published three books that were compilations of your French-Word-a-Day posts before you were contacted by Simon and Schuster. They eventually published Words in a French Life: Lessons in Love and Language in the South of France in 2006. With so many rapid changes in the publishing industry right now, I think a lot of authors wonder how best to get their work out into the world. Can you talk about your experience with self-publishing versus “traditional” publishing? What should an author’s main questions be when considering the different paths?
I loved self-publishing, despite the fact that I wanted so badly to be published professionally. That eventually came about, but I’m so glad I had published my own books first, from designing the covers to formatting the books. I loved the immediacy of it. I would gather up the latest stories, put them in a file, edit and format them, and then send them off to the printers in Kentucky! The books took only two weeks to make! During that time I already had a Paypal (pre-order) button up at my website. Readers showed their support by placing orders. It was heartening, motivating; it was happening!
Re: what should an author ask him/herself when considering the different paths (traditional vs. self-publishing)?: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure this one out…
You’ve mentioned that you are making forays into fiction now and started a story at the Paris Writers Workshop this summer. How does writing fiction differ for you from writing your blog posts? Is there a difference in your process, approach, and/or source of inspiration?
I have only dabbled in fiction but immediately enjoyed the freedom of not having to stick to the facts! Like painting a picture, I could sit back and wonder if I fancied yellow, or red, or black? Did I want the character to have a tattoo or a nun’s habit… or both? What fun it is to create from scratch! … and also what a daunting thing….
Your blog is immensely popular and has only grown over the years. How do you keep people coming back? And what keeps you motivated to continue?
That’s a good question. As for motivation, I guess the answer is “do or die”: do this or die a slow death of doing something else that I don’t want to be doing.
As for how to keep people coming back: People come back for refreshment, so try to avoid the same ol’ same ol’ syndrome. One way to do this is to be in the moment — to write about an event that has just taken place. Another way is to plunge into one’s memory bank, and pull forth an odd or amusing anecdote so as to throw things off the beaten track!
What advice would you give to an aspiring writer and/or blogger?
Don’t give up! If you are not feeling “up” to writing, why not post a photo and a caption? Who knows, just the act of doing so might lead to a few more lines… Also, remember that you have readers that are taking time out of their day to visit you. Make those minutes worth their while. And, as popular advice goes: Read! Read! Read! I like Ray Bradbury’s suggestion: to read a short story each day… and one poem… and one chapter in a book… and/or one essay. I’m doing this lately. And it is helping! Yesterday I read “The Yellow Wallpaper” (short story) and this morning a poem by Robert Frost (“Good Hours”). Last night I read a chapter from A Moveable Feast…. In doing the same, you can’t help but feel the spontaneous re-ignition of your writer’s engine, wherein all your stories are waiting to be released!
What’s next for you? Any future book projects in the works?
Book projects? I continue to hope… and hope! And meantime I write… and write….
Thanks, Kristin! Keep writing and thanks for inspiring me to do the same!