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“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)

Janice MacLeod is the New York Times bestselling author of Paris Letters, a charming memoir of a Canadian copywriter’s leap from corporate day job to a creative life in the City of Light.

A page from A Paris Year.

MacLeod is back with her second book now. A Paris Year is less memoir and more sophisticated visual journal. Janice is not only an ace writer, you see. She’s also a talented artist; the book is full of her photographs and watercolor paintings. If she weren’t so delightful, one might almost be jealous of her overabundance of gifts.

But she is delightful! It’s our good fortune to get to go along for the ride she takes us on. A Paris Year: My Day-to-Day Adventures in the Most Romantic City in the World (St. Martin’s Griffin) follows a curious, creative soul’s discovery of Paris. With a whimsical, humorous style, the days fly beautifully by.

In honor of the book’s launch next week, I’m thrilled to offer not just one, but TWO free copies of A Paris Year. Simply comment by June 23, 10 am EST to enter. I’m thrilled, as well, to welcome Janice to the blog. We just missed each other in Paris. I would love to have met her in person. But she sparkles on the page as you’ll soon see.

Paris Letters was your inspirational tale of following a dream. A Paris Year is more curated journal, a combination of personal and historical anecdotes matched with your photographs, watercolors, and other artistic touches. I know a little something about how a book only featuring words (!) is produced. But how do you assemble a highly sophisticated mixed media diary? Like literally, how? Each page is its own art object! I’d love to hear the process of how this book came to be, both in the creative sense and the actual mechanics.

Author Janice MacLeod with one of her painted letters.

How A Paris Year was created is twofold: First, the organizing of information. Second, the actual creating of the pages (the “Like literally, how?”).

First, the organizing. I had a slew of journals from my time in Paris. Plus, I had a slew of photos on my computer. I also had the watercolor paintings of my Paris Letters, the painted letters I create and sell on Etsy.

At first, the plan was to make a book of all the letters. That proved a little dry when you line them all up, simply because sometimes I had a better photo than a painting of something, and sometimes I had a better sketch than photo or painting. Or I knew I could describe something better than I could take a photo or paint it. So my plan evolved to gather the best of all the visual elements.

Then I was walking through Bon Marché on the left bank in Paris and I came across a beautiful journal. I loved the creamy color of the pages, the font of the date at the top of the page, and the feel of it. As soon as I saw it I knew I had an idea for the canvas for my art, and a way to organize my collection… from January to December. I returned to my big pile of art and arranged it according to month. All January photos and paintings with a January theme and so on until December. I researched the notorious people of Paris: kings, queens, artists, authors, and inserted their stories in the appropriate months when they either lived, died, or did something of note. I added more photos and paintings as I went along.

Then a wonderful thing happened. I began to see links. For example, I wrote about the beheading of the king, who was carried to the beheading in a green carriage. Now all the park benches, bookstalls and fountains are painted a certain shade called Carriage Green, which led me to talk about my favorite Carriage Green fountain in front of Shakespeare and Company bookstore, which led to talking about Hemingway, as this was his favorite bookstore, and I happened to write about this on the day before Zelda Fitzgerald’s birthday, who was the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway’s friend, so I wrote about her. All these links seemed to run into each other until I had a year in Paris.

Second, the actual putting together of the book. I confess, I’m not an Adobe wiz. I scanned all my art and used picmonkey, an online photo editor, to create the pages. It was fast and user friendly. Then, I plopped all these art pages in Adobe InDesign (that’s what the printer needs to print the book), and typed in the text because my handwriting is too messy. It was a lot of learning. I’m more of a paint and paper kind of girl, not so much of a digital artist…but I learned so much in the process that I suppose now I am a digital artist. Though Adobe still scares me.

The book blends your personal notes with brief facts about famous Parisian figures. How did you decide upon the right balance? I would imagine an intuitive unfolding…

The more I tend to look at a page, the more I notice how there is only really one route to take. Sure there are other options that float around, but after a year of fiddling with the pages, there is usually one winning way to go.

As for the balance between the memoir aspect of the book and the facts about famous Parisian figures feature of the book, I just wrote all the interesting bits and left out the boring bits.

An example of one of Janice’s painted letters.

I often say to people who I tour around Paris that I know a thing or two about a thing or two. I basically retain the interesting bits and abandon the rest. A Paris Year is filled with all the bits I find interesting. If you’re looking for a full tour of Paris, call Rick Steves. If you’re looking for a lovely way to see Paris without being inundated with details, check out A Paris Year.

As for the memoir aspect of the book, I wanted my readers of Paris Letters (the book this time, not the subscription service) to notice parts of the year that run parallel to moments in the previous book. Little Easter eggs for loyal readers to notice and think, AHHH I remember that moment! Because the books were lived around the same time.

I noticed quite a strain of Ernest Hemingway and A Moveable Feast as inspiration throughout the book. Paris is a city of ghosts and you note that Hemingway seemed to be aiding you along. What do you feel Paris offers you as an artist – or how are you influenced by it? – this city which so many creative souls have inhabited?

When I’m in Paris, I find it easy to answer all the burning questions of my life. I can’t exactly explain it. I feel it’s more than just intuition. I think everyone has ghosts following them around in Paris. Mine happens to be Hemingway. When I first arrived in Paris, I read A Moveable Feast, which has many great lines about life in Paris. These great lines seemed to float around with me on my walks. Plus, the book is also a guidebook for writers on writing, so his advice and experiences in Paris were helpful to me while writing my books about Paris.

Your Paris is lovely and romantic. Yet you did decide to move back to your native Canada and seem to be something of a traveling nomad now. I’m curious to hear why you left – and any insights you’ve learned about this journey (a selfish question, maybe. I’m in the midst of this huge transition now!)

A painted letter.

I definitely had my dreams fulfilled by living in Paris: A book, a thriving online business, and meeting the lovely Christophe. He was feeling tired of Paris. He’d been here for 15 years by that point. I thought perhaps we could fulfill his dream of moving to the mountains of Canada. Plus, as a seasoned visa applicant (like every other expat in France), I thought we should move to a place where I wouldn’t have to spend half my time getting visas approved. I’m Canadian, so moving to Canada was a relatively easy move. The French administration can tire a person out.

Continue reading ‘“A Paris Year” by Janice MacLeod: Author Interview (+ GIVEAWAY!)’

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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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