Posts Tagged 'author'

“In Another Life” – Author Interview with Julie Christine Johnson (+ GIVEAWAY!)

InAnotherLife_CoverHistorian Lia Carrer has finally decided to return to southwestern France to rebuild her life after her husband’s death. But instead of finding solace in the rural hills and medieval ruins, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder and falls for a man whose very existence challenges all she knows.

Told in dual past and present narration – early 13th-century and today – In Another Life is a literary page turner that explores love, loss, and the ghosts that never let us go. The debut novel, released in February from Sourcebooks Landmark, has received much praise, including a starred review from Library Journal.

I am so excited to welcome Julie Christine Johnson, author of In Another Life, to the blog – and to offer a free giveaway of her book! It’s always a thrill to get caught up in a good novel. Even more so when it’s written by a cherished friend.

Julie and I “met” in an online writer’s group; we’ve never met face to face. Yet her warmth and wisdom were immediately evident in her thoughtful messages, in her lyrical ruminations on her blog Chalk the Sun. We formed a rapport that has only grown deeper. And I confess to finding myself choked up when I finished her book – for the feat that she had accomplished creating such a rich story. And to find my name in the acknowledgments! I am truly in awe and so grateful to have such intelligent, generous people in my life – and to be thought of as a writing peer.

Author Julie Christine Johnson

Author Julie Christine Johnson

Julie’s short stories and essays have appeared in several journals, including Emerge Literary Journal, Mud Season Review, Cirque: A Literary Journal of the North Pacific Rim, Cobalt, River Poets Journal, in the print anthologies Stories for Sendai, Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers, and Three Minus One: Stories of Love and Loss, as well as being featured on the flash fiction podcast No Extra Words. She leads writing workshops and seminars and offers story/developmental editing and writer coaching services. A hiker, yogi, and wine geek, Julie makes her home on the Olympic Peninsula of northwest Washington state.

Without further ado, here’s my interview with Julie. Details on the giveaway at the end of the post!

In Another Life is set in France’s Languedoc region (with a foray into Paris, too!). Your lyrical prose delights in lush descriptions and details – we see the landscape clearly through your word paintings, can almost taste the food and wine (your previous job as a wine buyer must have aided in the latter, I assume!) I know you have a long history with France – your undergraduate degree is in French and you have had extended stays in l’Hexagone for over a quarter century. What draws you so deeply to this country? Did it feel natural to have your first book bloom from your connection? Why here, in other words?

Minerve

Minerve

Why France, indeed? I had to sit with this question a bit. Yes, I’ve been enthralled with France for nearly thirty years, since deciding to become a French major—even before I spent a year at the University of Chambèry as a college senior. But why? What began this love affair with a place, a culture, a people?

It started with the language. I enrolled in French as a college freshman to fulfill general requirements and by the end of the first quarter, something had opened up inside me. For me, learning a language went beyond syntax and grammar; it transformed the formation of my thoughts. Articulating in French changed my relationship to the learning process by tapping into an active creativity I didn’t realize I possessed.

Continue reading ‘“In Another Life” – Author Interview with Julie Christine Johnson (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

‘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 Salon.com 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’

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’


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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