The Geometry of Love (+ Giveaway!)

GeometryFrontCover2015Last month the American Library of Paris hosted novelist Jessica Levine and her agent April Eberhardt. They had a spirited and honest discussion about the realities of today’s publishing climate and the relationship between writer and agent. I love hearing stories about how books make their way into the world; I appreciated both women’s candor immensely.

My interest was piqued about the book itself, too. The Geometry of Love centers on a love triangle: a poet with writer’s block is torn between a reliable boyfriend and a more passionate, but difficult old flame. How could I resist? I found Jessica after the event and asked if she’d be interested in visiting the blog.

Happily, she said yes! She also agreed to offer a free copy of her novel to one lucky winner. Giveaway details at the end of the post!

Jessica Levine earned a Ph.D. in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley and has translated several books about architecture and design from French and Italian into English. She also writes a wonderful blog called Paris Regained. In it, she weaves stories from the two years she spent in Paris as a young woman with her thoughts on returning now, decades later, with her husband and two daughters for a sabbatical year. I’m excited Jessica is now part of Paris’ literary community and that she’s here today to answer a few questions about her writing.

The Geometry of Love explores lots of rich territory: love, intimacy, the struggle between heart and mind, and the nature and origin of creative inspiration and production. What compels you to write about these subjects?

My mother once said to me, “Life is hard for women. The trick is to make the right marriage.” I think there’s much truth in that, but one could add, “or not marry at all.” Love has been a fascinating subject for centuries, but for women, since the 1960s, the pull toward love has been set against an increased drive for autonomy. I have seen countless women—my family, friends, therapy clients—unable to figure out just how committed they want to be in relationship. They want intimacy and security, but freedom, too.

As for the creative quest, I started writing at the age of 12 and published my first novel in my fifties so, as you can imagine, I’ve had some obstacles, internal as well as external, along the way. My mother was a graphic designer and painter who saw herself as a failed and frustrated artist. Her self-disparagement left its mark on me, especially as her creative block eventually contributed to her alcoholism.

Author Jessica Levine

Author Jessica Levine

Creativity requires qualities—self-confidence, courage, spontaneity—as well as conditions—time, financial ease, mentorship or positive role models—that are not always available. It took me many years to overcome the destructive inner critic modeled for me by my mother. I should add that I have forgiven her for that negative inheritance, as I came not only to understand it but also to use it as a subject for my writing.

Your first book, Delicate Pursuit, was a nonfiction study of how Henry James and Edith Wharton used discretion to grapple with controversial topics and the influence the French literary tradition had on their treatment of risqué material. I wonder how this background informed your own novel, which deals with issues including infidelity, eroticism and presents some pretty frank sex scenes.

Yes, James and Wharton have been hugely influential on me. The Geometry of Love is in some ways a rewrite of Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. The novel I’m working on now is a response to James’s Portrait of a Lady. However, if James and Wharton were discreet in the presentation of sexual material, Geometry does, as you point out, have some very erotic scenes. This was not true of my first drafts, in which I felt some inhibition writing about sex. Then I realized that both the character and the story required it: Sexuality is important for my protagonist – a way not only of creating but also of measuring intimacy. Julia is seeking a relationship that will provide lasting fulfillment and sex for her is the proof of the pudding—the experience that enables her to know just how much she feels.

I’m fascinated that you are also a trained hypnotherapist. I would think your experience in dealing with the subconscious has some intriguing overlap with the imaginative work of fiction. How do you see these two things speaking to each other?

Both writing and therapy use language to mine and describe private emotions and experiences such as love, fear, pain, and loss. Both find refuge in safe spaces to explore the dark side of being human. For clients, that safe space is the therapist’s office. For writers it’s the blank page—at least until they’re published. Then they have to deal with readers’ reactions!

You have an interesting relationship to French and to Paris. You went to a French school in New York as a child, studied in Paris in college, and now have returned in mid-life with your family. How would you describe your feelings about Paris, and is living here affecting your writing?

I love Paris, though it’s not always the best place to write! I’m very sensitive to my visual environment and feel nourished by the artistic and architectural heritage of the city. Also, the respect that the French have for writers and artists supports me in my creative work. When Patrick Modiano won the Nobel prize, the city celebrated his achievement by hanging gigantic posters with his image in the streets. You would never see that in the United States, where there is a prevailing hostility to the arts, education, and intellectual enrichment. It’s very unfortunate.

You’re leading novel writing workshops at the American Library of Paris. What advice do you have for aspiring novelists?

There are three points I stress repeatedly. The first: Whether one hopes for a literary or a mass audience, a good story is crucial, so I encourage my students to focus on story in the first draft, structuring their narratives around scenes. Every scene, even if it is one of psychological reflection, should play a role in the development of the plot.

The second is that fiction, just like non-fiction, provides an information feed. Beginning writers often don’t realize that they are not giving the reader enough information to understand the story, let alone visualize it.

Finally, readers enjoy variety. A good novel interweaves dialogue, action, description, background, fantasy, rumination. One good exercise after writing a first draft is simply to break the chapter into segments and count the number of pages in each mode. If you have twenty pages of straight description or dialogue, for example, you are likely to lose your reader.

What’s next?

Currently I’m working on a novel about a young American woman living in Rome. Much like Isabel Archer, she misreads the signs of the culture, falls into traps that are set for her, and struggles to do the right thing. To be in Paris writing about Rome feels very familiar to me. When I last lived here, in the late 1970s, I started studying Italian and most of my travels took me to Italy, and here I am repeating the pattern: I went to Rome in November and will travel to Genoa in April. Of course Italy has cast its spell on French writers and artists since Poussin, Madame de Staël, and Stendhal. I’m happy to imagine myself part of that tradition, if only for a moment.

Thank you!
And thank you for inviting me!

Jessica’s website.
Buy The Geometry of Love (She Writes Press, 2014)
.

To enter to win a free copy of The Geometry of Love, please leave a comment by Wednesday, April 1, 3 pm EST.

UPDATE! Congratulations, Julie, for winning a free copy!

 

27 Responses to “The Geometry of Love (+ Giveaway!)”


  1. 1 jerry michaelson March 26, 2015 at 12:44 pm

    comkng from a background of negative inheritance i am very interested to find out how jessica was able to overcome the strongly influential and dark threads of her past.

  2. 3 buffyschilling March 26, 2015 at 2:52 pm

    Hello,

    Sion I enjoyed your interview with Jessica Levine. I like how she uses writers from the past to influence her work, especially the ones she has choosen. The advice she gave for writing will be helpful as I continue to do more with my own writing. I am always looking for ways to improve it. So many of us share the dream of writing, traveling and even living abroad. It is nice to hear the success stories in making it happen. I keep thinking, maybe one day that too can happen to me.

    Take care,
    Buffy

    • 4 paris (im)perfect March 27, 2015 at 12:37 pm

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, Buffy, and that you found Jessica’s advice helpful. I did, too! Yes, many of of us share this dream of writing (and traveling and living abroad). I think Jessica is a good example of what is often the key to making those things a reality: perseverance. I’ve been thinking about what another writer, Tayari Jones, has been talking about recently. About setting intentions. About taking steps each day, even if they’re small ones, toward what you want. So when I’m overwhelmed and losing focus, I remember, well, I want to write. So I sit down and write that day, even if just for 10 minutes. Steps ; )

  3. 5 Julie Christine March 26, 2015 at 3:12 pm

    What a wonderful interview- I can’t wait to read Jessica’s book. I studied in France in college, studied Italian while there and spent my holidays in Italy; I’m close to 50, publishing my first novel, with dreams of returning to France for an extended period to write. So, I feel rather connected to Jessica Levine!

    I’m inspired by her guidance regarding variety of scene style and content. This gives me a fresh approach as I tackle a revision on my second novel.

    I’m so thrilled to see the great things coming out of She Writes Press – this new model of publishing offers writers a direct connection to the process. A celebration of art and craft. Brava!

    Lovely, Sion. Thank you for bringing Jessica’s book to our attention.

    • 6 paris (im)perfect March 27, 2015 at 12:40 pm

      Wow, sounds like many parallels indeed, Julie! I was interested to learn more about She Write Press, too (Jessica and April, her agent, were discussing the hybrid model on the panel so I got to learn more about that).

      I’m looking forward to *your* book (yay!) and really hope you return to France to write, too…not only because it’s your dream (which is the most important!), but also because I’d love to see you over here ; )

      • 7 Julie Christine March 30, 2015 at 5:15 am

        Just thinking out loud– it’s so curious to me that Jessica is publishing through SWP with an agent; SWP is writer working directly with publisher; there’s no need for an agent. I would love to know how they are working that out and what benefits Jessica sees to SWP vs. a traditional publisher.
        Incidentally, April is the agent I’d planned to pitch to at the writers’ conference I attended in October, where I met my agent and editor. April wasn’t able to attend, and I was able to fill my pitch docket with others. Small funny world.

        Yes. France🙂 Brendan and I were there in October, hiking in Dordogne and Lot. Our hearts will always be half in France . . . we’ll be back!

      • 8 paris (im)perfect April 1, 2015 at 6:57 pm

        Small world indeed, Julie. And glad to hear you’ll come back to France to visit. Good question for Jessica. She answered it below ; )

  4. 9 Linda Davies March 26, 2015 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks for the thought provoking interview, Sion. I love the idea of a dialogue between books, and look forward to reading The Geometry of Love.

  5. 11 Jackie March 26, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Thank you for a very interesting interview. I especially enjoyed reading Jessica’s tips for aspiring novelists.

  6. 13 korbijoe March 26, 2015 at 4:51 pm

    Paris. A love triangle. Priceless advice for writers. There is so much to love here!

  7. 15 Ana March 26, 2015 at 6:43 pm

    Thanks for the introduction to an author I didn’t know. Look forward to reading her books!

  8. 17 Stephanie Smith March 26, 2015 at 6:45 pm

    Sounds like a great read, would love to win this book!

  9. 19 I Say Oui March 27, 2015 at 12:45 am

    Her story sounds interesting. The winding paths always are. I’ll have to check out her blog.

  10. 21 lupinssupins March 27, 2015 at 9:04 am

    Merci bien, Sion, for introducing us to another interesting Américaine à Paris! I just visited her blog, enjoyed her last several posts there and signed right up for it. Her latest book sounds great.

  11. 25 Jessica Levine April 1, 2015 at 6:49 pm

    Thank you everyone for reading the interview and commenting. I wanted to
    respond to two questions.

    The first one was from @Jerry, about overcoming blocks. I’d say that one of the things that helped me most in my quest as a writer was finding other writers on the same path who have been a supportive community for me.

    The other question, from @Julie, was why do I have an agent if I’m working with She Writes Press? The answer is that April (Eberhardt) has worked ceaselessly to advise, guide, and promote me. She helped me revise “The Geometry of Love” for publication and has helped me make connections, for example with the American Library in Paris. She was also able to get me a foreign rights agent, which has led to “The Geometry of Love” appearing in Romanian (and other languages to come soon, we hope). In short, I have found her support invaluable.

    Thanks again everyone and I’m looking forward to seeing who’s the winner!

    All best,
    Jessica

    • 26 Julie Christine April 1, 2015 at 7:07 pm

      Jessica, thank you so much for answering! Exactly what I wondered, and it goes into my mental and practical file of how publishing is evolving and how I can evolve with it. At this stage of my career, which is in its infancy, I’m so grateful to have an agent with a steady hand and a clear vision for my work and career, and what you’ve said supports the continued value of literary agents who advocate and support their writers. I’m thrilled you’ve found someone who clearly values your work and is able to move comfortably in this wobbly new world!

      Felicitations on your success and I look forward to watching it grow!

  12. 27 paris (im)perfect April 1, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    Thanks, everyone. I’ll be drawing names in a couple of hours and contact the winner directly via email!


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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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