Posts Tagged 'interview'

‘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!)’

Author Interview: Lisa Pasold

Originally from Montreal, Lisa Pasold is a writer and journalist who now divides her time between Paris and Toronto.

She’s published two books of poetry (with a third forthcoming), a novel (with a second in the works), and written for numerous newspapers, magazines, and guidebooks including Time Out, Fodor’s, The Globe and Mail, and more.

In advance of her October 4 talk on travel writing at the American Library in Paris, I caught up with Lisa to get the inside scoop on writing, revising, and her many adventures abroad.

You write it all – poems, articles, travel pieces, a novel. What do you get out of each of these different types of writing? Do they inform each other in any way?

In some ways, they all come from the same impetus: I want to connect with the world, whether it’s through writing a travel article or writing a poem. For a while I worked as a music journalist, which was quite ‘rock & roll’ (you really have to say that with a French accent), and now I’m mining all my weirdest music & fashion stories for my next novel. So as it turns out, the different kinds of writing inform each other very directly!

You grew up in Montreal so were accustomed to living in a bilingual environment. Now you live in a French-speaking country and write in English. As language is our currency as writers, can you describe the role living with these two languages plays in your work?

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Lisa Pasold’

Writer Interview (Me This Time!)

In Auvergne last summer

Janet Skeslien Charles, author of Moonlight in Odessa, was the first author I interviewed on this blog, kicking off one of my favorite features.

Today she’s turned the tables on me. She asked me to dole out some advice, dish on reading and writing, and discuss the challenges and rewards of blogging (hint: I give a shout-out to you as my biggest joy in blogging).

Head on over here to read the interview, if you’d like. (FYI: She starts with a repost of my Franglish article awhile back. Scroll on down if you just want the interview).

Enjoy!

First! Ever! Giveaway! David Downie’s “Paris, Paris”

See that book right over there to your left?

For the re-release this week of David Downie’s “Paris, Paris: A Journey into the City of Light,” Broadway Books has offered to give away copies to three lucky blog readers. Details on the giveaway at the end of the post!

Of course I wanted to know more about the writer behind this collection of essays. After a quarter century in Paris, veteran author and journalist David Downie has plenty to say about the City of Light…and a whole bunch of other things, too!

You describe yourself as an “accidental Parisian,” meaning that you didn’t necessarily set out to make Paris your home. After 25 years here, however, part of your identity must now be wrapped up in Paris, even though you’re American. Can you elaborate on this feeling of being an “accidental Parisian”? What has kept you in Paris for so long? (Will you stay?)

Before moving to Paris my world was centered on the San Francisco Bay Area and Italy—Rome, Milan and Padua. My mother is Italian, I spent a few crucial years as a child in Rome, my second language – actually my mother tongue – is Italian… I fell in love with Italy as a boy and with France as an adult.

In the early 1980s I moved back to Italy after finishing graduate work in Italian literature at Brown University. After a couple of years and a roller-coaster marriage to an Italian artist I needed a change of scenery. So I headed to Paris to stay with friends. That was in Oct 1985. I had such a wonderful time – it was maybe the fourth or fifth time I’d been to Paris – that I decided, what the hell, I’ll move here and rent a maid’s room and write the Great American Novel – about Italy! I did. Luckily it wasn’t published.

Continue reading ‘First! Ever! Giveaway! David Downie’s “Paris, Paris”’

Author Interview: Kristin Espinasse

Kristin Espinasse at Shakespeare & Co (photo by Adrian Leeds, http://www.adrianleeds.com)

Kristin Espinasse is the writer behind the popular French-Word-A-Day blog and the author of Words in a French Life. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Kristin in Paris a few times now and can report she is just as warm and wonderful in person as she is on the web.

Thanks to Kristin for answering a few of my questions.

You’ve created your own unique style of writing – real-life vignettes infused with French vocabulary. I would recognize a Kristin Espinasse story anywhere! How did the idea for French-Word-A-Day come about and how has it evolved over the years?

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Kristin Espinasse’

Author Interview: Ann Mah

Ann Mah

I had so much fun with my first author interview, I just had to do another!

Ann Mah is a journalist and the author of Kitchen Chinese, a novel about “food, family, and finding yourself.”

A Paris resident since August 2008, she was a Program Manager at the American Library of Paris for a year and a half, organizing the Evenings with an Author series. She has now stepped down from that position to focus on writing her second novel about a female sommelier in Paris. (Janet Skeslien Charles who I interviewed last time has stepped into the Program Manager role at ALP – don’t you love all these connections?)

Previously Ann has worked as an assistant editor at Viking Penguin in New York, as a staff writer for an English-language magazine in Beijing, and even won a culinary scholarship to study in Bologna, Italy! Her husband’s post as a diplomat ensures they have exciting new countries to discover every few years.

Ann took the time to answer a few questions about writing, getting unwired, and the importance of place to her work.

Continue reading ‘Author Interview: Ann Mah’

Paris Author: Interview with Janet Skeslien Charles

Janet Skeslien Charles

I am pleased as punch to feature my first interview with a real, live Paris author!

Janet Skeslien Charles has lived in Paris since 1999. Her first novel, Moonlight in Odessa, was voted one of Publisher’s Weekly top 10 fiction debuts of Fall 2009. This year it won the Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.

Just in time for the paperwork release of her novel, Janet agreed to an email interview with me. Seeing as she is also known as a great teacher – having taught writing workshops at Shakespeare & Co for four years – I put in a few questions that I’m particularly interested in. You know, as someone who is, erm, kind of, sort of, maybe working on a novel of her own.

Thanks, Janet, for answering my (idiosyncratic) questions!

People have all sorts of romantic myths about being a writer in Paris. I actually find it incredibly difficult to write in Paris. How does living in Paris affect your writing?

Continue reading ‘Paris Author: Interview with Janet Skeslien Charles’


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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