Posts Tagged 'france'

Writing in Famous Authors’ Homes – The Mount, The Kerouac House, plus Film + Event News!

The Mount, Edith Wharton's house in Lenox, MA

The Mount, Edith Wharton’s house in Lenox, MA

Friends, do you remember my happy stint as the writer-in-residence at the Kerouac House a few years ago?

Sitting on the porch of Jack's house.

Sitting on the porch of Jack’s house.

This spring, I’ve been having a similar experience, this time in the Berkshires.

Reindeer sighting early in my stay!

Reindeer sighting early in my stay!

Since mid-February I’ve been staying in a sweet 1-bedroom apartment on Stockbridge, MA’s Main Street (a site captured forever in Norman Rockwell paintings), teaching a twice-weekly creative writing class at the local Waldorf high school, and luxuriating in time to focus on my own writing as the Stone Court Writer-in-Residence.

It’s funny how I thought I would hide away here and pile up the pages. While I have gotten a lot of work done, it hit me soon after arriving that it can be hard to hermit in a town of less than 2,000 inhabitants. Just heading out my door to go for a walk I’m sure to run into someone I know. It’s a delight. Paris undoubtedly has pleasures galore, but there are many to be found in small town life, too.

Shutters at The Mount

Shutters at The Mount

The biggest surprise and fortune has been making a connection with The Mount, Edith Wharton’s elegant country home in Lenox, MA. I admit before my residency, the extent of my Wharton knowledge was the required reading of Ethan Frome in high school, a bleak experience that did not exactly leave me clamoring to seek out more of the author’s work.

Garden path at The Mount

Garden path at The Mount

But from the moment I stepped inside The Mount, I felt a magical energy. And by some further magic – and the very real generosity of the incredibly kind staff – I was allowed to spend nearly a month writing there each day. WOW!

Look there in the corner. That's me writing in Edith Wharton's bedroom!

Look there in the corner. That’s me writing in Edith Wharton’s bedroom!

Continue reading ‘Writing in Famous Authors’ Homes – The Mount, The Kerouac House, plus Film + Event News!’

“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!)’

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!)’

Bye Bye Sarkozy; Hello Hollande

Well, if I’ve been complaining that I feel a certain lack of energy in France, a close presidential election serves at least as temporary cure.

Rue de la Roquette on Election Night

Tonight the French elected Socialist candidate Francois Hollande to the presidency, ousting incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy.

Crowds congregated in celebration across the country; I headed to Bastille where the mood was boisterous.

At one point I was nearly crushed against a wall as a pack of people surged against me. Well, I wanted excitement, didn’t I?

I ducked into a bistro for a brief reprieve

Continue reading ‘Bye Bye Sarkozy; Hello Hollande’

Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)

Aurelia d'Andrea (photo by Sophia Pagan)

When my (crazy) idea of moving to France first came to me ’round about 2005/2006, there weren’t that many practical guides explaining how to make it happen. I found books with titles like “Working and Living in France,” but these were inevitably written largely by and for UK residents.

As all of my North American expat friends can attest, a vastly different set of challenges face those not already wielding an EU-passport.

That’s why it’s lovely to see a new book (released Valentine’s Day – aww) written for a more North American audience.

Aurelia d’Andrea is a freelance writer, former magazine editor, and professional Parisian dog walker (!) who has put together a useful guide to Living Abroad in France (conveniently, that is the title of the book, too!)

D’Andrea hails from San Francisco, but has successfully navigated two different long-term stays in France. Her book covers everything from planning a fact-finding trip to moving with pets, the different types of visas and their associated requirements to renting or buying an apartment.

The guidebook is engaging and accessible and packed full of resources. Besides admiring the work it takes to put together such a guide, I’m also relieved to have an easy title to point to now when others ask me how they too can live in la belle France. “Get this book,” I can now say. (Phew, I’m off the hook!)

It takes real perseverance to make the dream of living in France a reality, but as d’Andrea proves – it’s possible. And so worth it.

I’m happy Aurelia agreed to answer a few questions for the blog.

I was stunned to learn that you researched and wrote this entire book from scratch under a very tight deadline. The book gives an overview of everything from French government to getting your kids into school, handling administrative hurdles to mapping regional geography. How in the heck do you even approach putting together such an extensive guide on such a large topic as “Living Abroad in France”?

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Aurelia d’Andrea of ‘Living Abroad in France’ (Plus: A Reader Poll!)’

No More ‘Miss’ : Mademoiselle is Out

Yesterday a decree came from Prime Minister Francois Fillon’s office: “Mademoiselle” will be phased out of usage on all administrative documents from now on.

You probably already know: a man is always “Monsieur.” But a woman is either “Mademoiselle” or “Madame” based on marital status. The government and feminist groups have now successfully argued that this differentiation doesn’t make sense.

Is this the end of an era?

Continue reading ‘No More ‘Miss’ : Mademoiselle is Out’


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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