Posts Tagged 'books'

‘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 Pillow Project

David Barnes of Spoken Word Paris reading while a member of the Pillow Project riffs

Hello friends,

Here’s your helping of a random (art) happening around town.

This past Tuesday The Pillow Project paid a visit to Shakespeare & Co. The Pittsburgh-based troupe plays “freejazz,” an improvisational form they describe as “using the body as the instrument playing visual notes.”

The experimental group is starting to forge deeper ties to Paris. On hand for this week’s event were members of the city’s active spoken word scene.

For non-French speakers, there’s a lot of blood and torture in the text!

Continue reading ‘The Pillow Project’

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’

Soaking up Sunshine; Stocking up on Books

Lazing around Le Square du Vert-Galant

Pont Neuf Bridge

Luxembourg Gardens

Spring. Is. Amazing.

It makes me want to dance!

Continue reading ‘Soaking up Sunshine; Stocking up on Books’

Books, Glorious Books!

Sunday was one of my favorite semi-annual events in Paris: the English-language used book sale!

Twice a year SOS Help holds a 4-hour extravaganza where eager Anglophones come to stock up on new (to them) reads.

I like that the money goes toward a good cause, but selfishly what I really like are the prices. All paperbacks go for 1 euro, hardcovers for 2.

Guess how many I picked up? 35!

My loot from the book sale

This was the limit of the cash in my wallet and the amount I could physically carry back with me on the metro. I always come equipped with a large bag to the sale, but what I really need is a rolling cart!

Continue reading ‘Books, Glorious Books!’

Strangers in Paris (Book + Launch Party!)

Well here’s the thing to get me back into Paris and the writing life.

I recently had a story published in a new anthology entitled “Strangers in Paris: New Writing from the City of Light.” The book features lots of great contributors (including John Berger and poet Alice Notley!).

I have no idea how the heck I ended up in such good company, but I’m thrilled!

The Paris launch of the book will be this coming Monday, July 25, at Shakespeare & Co. Ten or so contributors will be reading. I’m excited and nervous to be one of them.

Continue reading ‘Strangers in Paris (Book + Launch Party!)’

In the Past Imperfect

For the second day in a row, I had a lovely writer double date. Yesterday I met up with Karin of An Alien Parisienne and Isabelle Solal at Buttes Chaumont, my favorite Paris park.

Topics of conversation were mainly about writing craft, though there was a fair bit of girly talk, too.

Isabelle recently took the plunge and put her debut novel directly onto Amazon’s Kindle Store. As I’ve been watching the current traditional vs self-publishing show-down with rapt attention, you better believe I’ll be following her journey. I’ll borrow any tips should I decide to go that route.

I’ve already learned from Isabelle that I don’t actually need a Kindle to read an ebook for Kindle. (Who knew?) You can download a copy to your computer.

I haven’t yet had a chance to read In the Past Imperfect, but if it’s as light and bright as Isa, it should be fun. It’s an updated take on Persuasion with a twist – and transported to France.

Continue reading ‘In the Past Imperfect’

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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