Archive for the 'Author Interviews' Category

‘Landfalls’ by Naomi J. Williams: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Landfalls FSG coverI first encountered Naomi Williams’ work when I ran across her essay “Routine? What Routine?” on the blog of her publisher, FSG. In that essay, she copped to a writing schedule that struck me as thrillingly refreshing – she has none.

The prevailing wisdom is that one must write every day. Of course, if one can manage it, that would be a rather enviable routine. But not everyone is wired to follow such dictates (though I *do* look forward to weekly writing dates through my new venture WIP).

I found her admission of a haphazard process – “Every morning I wake up and make it up as if I’ve never done it before” – strangely reassuring. Yes. My. How I relate.

I soon started reading her blog, which proved just as delightful and fresh, dotted with humorous anecdotes and sparkling with breezy smarts. Then I discovered her debut novel came out in early August; I knew I had to get my hands on it.

“Here’s a fair question,” she opens in a post explaining the book’s origins, “How does a middle-aged American woman with no experience at sea come to write a novel about 18th-century French mariners?”

Indeed. How does that happen? And what’s this about a French connection? A perfect excuse to reach out and ask if I could feature her on the blog. Happily she agreed!

Landfalls takes the Lapérouse expedition – a real voyage that left Brest in 1785 with high hopes of circumnavigating the globe before vanishing – and brings the story to vivid fictional life. It is, quite simply, one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure of reading in a very long time.

Warm, witty, humane, moving, it is a remarkable novel – one that had me chuckling in some places, crying in others, and all the while shaking my head and marveling at the author’s deft, delicate touch. I sailed through its pages – the prose so elegant! so skilled! – and immediately returned to the beginning of the book with a desire to reread it as soon as I had finished. I can’t remember the last time I did that.

Naomi J. Williams was born in Japan and spoke no English until she was six years old. Her short fiction has appeared in journals such as A Public Space, One Story, The Southern Review, and The Gettysburg Review. In 2009, she received a Pushcart Prize and a Best American Honorable Mention. Naomi has an MA in Creative Writing from UC Davis. Landfalls is her first novel.

I’m thrilled Naomi is here on the blog today. I’m also thrilled to have a free copy of Landfalls to send to one lucky reader. Giveaway details are at the end of the post.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I love the backstory of how you came to write Landfalls – a mislabeled vintage map gifted to you for your birthday led to your discovery of the Lapérouse expedition. That in turn sparked your idea to tell a bunch of stories each from a different place along the route and about a different crew member. What an ambitious plan! How does one go about approaching such a daunting task in the beginning – and staying with it? Lituya Bay map

I think a good dose of ignorant bravado might have been at work here. When I first came up with the idea, I thought it would take maybe two years to write. Ha! Then when I actually started it, I thought, okay, maybe it’s more like a five-year project. Wrong again. But in a way this project felt more doable than a “regular” novel with one setting, one narrative perspective, and one through-line. That seemed — still seems — quite daunting to me. I approached each chapter like a short story. Writing one short story didn’t seem impossible. Then after I’d finish one, I’d just start on the next. And I proceeded in that piecemeal fashion for the better part of a decade.

And about the map that started it all: It’s a map of Lituya Bay in Alaska, and it’s from an English-language atlas of the Lapérouse expedition, and yes, it’s a really weird map that suggests, more than anything else, the female reproductive system. If you want to read more about how I ended up with it and all of that, I tell that story in some detail at my blog.

Your exploration of each character’s inner landscape was as impressive and profound a world-building as the vast scope of the physical geography you covered. The richest portraits emerge – everyone from the ship’s captain to a Russian translator to an indigenous woman on the Solomon Islands and numerous others. Could you talk about the process of inhabiting so many different perspectives and places? Did you focus on one character at a time? Outline the links between the chapters?

I didn’t really outline links between chapters — not on paper or in any visible way, at least. With the result that most of the work of revising with my editor consisted of trying to make those links more visible, making the whole thing more novelistic and less like a collection of discrete stories that didn’t always talk to each other.

But about the characterization — usually in the research a sort of personality would emerge about the historical figures I was reimagining. There would be a letter or report or anecdote reported in a journal or something that suggested traits — fussiness, pretension, anxiety, optimism, etc. — that I’d then expand on.

I also ended up pouring a lot of myself into the characters. The uptight, meticulous scientist in the chapter set in Macao, a guy who feels put-upon and ill-served by life and everyone around him: there’s unfortunately quite a lot of me in that character. The more anxious the character, the easier I found him or her to inhabit. The commander, Lapérouse, was challenging, as he was by all accounts a really genial, even-keeled (no pun intended!) individual. Unflappability is not a quality I understand.

The real historical facts and the scenes you put on your fiction writer’s cap to create melded so seamlessly together. How did your extensive research incite/inform/intermingle with your imagination in bringing these stories alive?

Continue reading ‘‘Landfalls’ by Naomi J. Williams: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

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.

Continue reading ‘The Geometry of Love (+ Giveaway!)’

**BOOK GIVEAWAY!** Deer Hunting in Paris

Deer Hunting in ParisIf the title doesn’t tip you off, I can confirm that Deer Hunting in Paris packs a ton of surprises.

Recently awarded the 2014 Travel Book of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers, the tale follows a Korean-American preacher’s daughter from Paris, France to Paris, Maine where our liberal, long-standing vegetarian author falls in love with a conservative carnivore and learns to cook everything from moose liver to deer heart. “Julia Child prepping roadkill,” one reviewer quips.

As someone who leans toward the secular end of the spectrum, steers clear of firearms, and has always been confounded by hunting’s appeal, the book’s subtitle – A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat – announced I would be entering very foreign territory. The fact that I laughed out loud on the first page (and that the funny one-liners kept coming) reassured me that I’d be in good hands for the journey. Deer Hunting in Paris is surely the most unique book I’ve ever found filed in the French travel section!

Paula Young Lee holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and writes frequently on subjects related to human-animal relations. The author of five books and over 25 scholarly articles, she also contributes to and similar venues. She splits her time between Wellesley, Massachusetts, and West Paris, Maine.

I’m delighted she’s on the blog today – and that she’s offered to give away *2* signed copies of the book! Details on how to win at the end of the post!

Continue reading ‘**BOOK GIVEAWAY!** Deer Hunting in Paris’

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’

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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