Posts Tagged 'writing'

“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!)’

Small Gifts, Big Gratitude (2015 in Review; Welcome the New Year Ahead)

One of my favorite shots from a 2015 photo session with my super talented friend Jade of Tripshooter.com

One of my favorite shots from a 2015 photo session with my super talented friend Jade of Tripshooter.com

Most places in Paris were closed today – shops, markets, museums.

Out on the street by 9 am (early for me on a normal day, unheard of the morning after New Year’s Eve), I walked several quiet blocks before another person even crossed my path. After a winter so far blessed by soft temperatures and sun, clouds and cold have returned to the city. But the still, chilled air warmed me. Everything was calm. All was peace.

Though still dreaming of the *warm* peace in Greece.

Though still dreaming of *this* kind of peace in Greece.

By a couple hours later, my neighborhood had yawned awake. Regulars traded stories over coffee at my corner café, rows of fruit beckoned from the fronts of a few epiceries, the rogue bakery near the metro displayed sandwiches and sweet treats. Their goods are not the best, but their weird hours comfort me – one can sometimes forgive a greasy pain au chocolat when it’s possible to procure the pastry at midnight. Or on New Year’s Day.

I also went to Zurich, though that wasn't nearly as exciting (random lamps in the park, notwithstanding).

I also went to Zurich, though that wasn’t nearly as exciting (random lamps in the park, notwithstanding).

The majority of stores were shuttered, mind you, but these signs of life made me smile. I love the laid-back nature of my neighborhood. More of these open pockets exist when so much else is closed.

To my surprise, I stumbled across a Franprix that was also open. Score. Who ever expected to get groceries on January 1? Unprepared to do a big shop, I corralled a modest number of items up to checkout. “16.56€” the cashier said, “though you have 15.26€ on your carte de fidelité.”

“As in, I can use the 15.26 to pay?”

(A loyalty card shouldn’t warrant much confusion – a straightforward concept, yes – but at the Franprix I normally frequent, they don’t seem to understand how their system works. I’ve stymied more than one employee when trying to employ my accrued points. Once when I handed over a 5€ off coupon that the store had given me on my previous trip, the cashier looked bewildered, then annoyed, then asked “qu’est-ce que c’est ce truc?” What is this thing. A manager had to be called).

So yeah, I was delighted when this cashier-angel announced I could immediately apply the credit to my purchase.

“That leaves 1.30€ due,” she said.

“It’s like a gift!” I said.

“It is,” she agreed. “Bonne année!

I saw magical trees in the small village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre this summer.

I saw magical trees in the small village of Sainte-Sévère-sur-Indre this summer.

Waltzing out with my happy new year’s bounty  – (almost) free food is enough to make me giddy – I continued on my journey. Rounding the corner on Boulevard de Charonne, I suddenly saw a Christmas tree falling from the sky. I couldn’t say whether its descent was fast or slow – it seemed both, really. An elegant dive.

A pleasing spectacle, an unexpected pine tree cutting through the air, but I did think quite clearly: “wow, that’s dangerous sport throwing a tree out a window.” Slow day notwithstanding, it’s usually a busy street.

For some reason, I hardly slowed though I was heading straight toward the event. The tree landed with a simple whoosh and I realized I’d been holding my breath waiting to discover what kind of sound a dropped tree from that height would make. Then a redheaded man picked up the sapin and pulled it to the curb. Ah, the lookout! I was relieved.

I caught his eye and he shrugged amiably and offered a sheepish smile.

“It’s faster that way,” he said.

Indeed. The tree looked to have been launched from the 6th or 7th floor at least.

Feel free here.

Feel free here.

Just steps later, now near Pere Lachaise, an older man walked by briskly. He seemed to be looking at me, though whether he was a bit unstable or another nice surprise awaited I couldn’t quite tell. All I could make out was the word “cadeau” repeated over and over again. Gift. Gift. Gift. 

Or present, present, present, if you prefer.

I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions; I often just feel my way toward a theme or a vague longing at the most. This year, several people have suggested picking one word, which sounded intriguing, though I found myself resisting that slightly, as well.

But something about these small encounters crystallized into my New Year’s wish. On my walk I had been pondering how “intention” seemed to be the one word growing brighter. Sometimes it’s unclear just what my intentions are so the prospect can get hazy, but that was just it: I want more of my energy to be directed. I want to work with purpose and intent.

These tiny surprises that shook me today, though – they were enchanting. They were joyful. Serendipity is necessary, too.

The memorial at one of the sites of violence, La Belle Equipe.

The memorial at one of the sites of violence, La Belle Equipe.

2015 was a year bookended by horrors in Paris – in my very arrondissement, the 11th, where I live. Just one week into the new year and the killings at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket shocked the country. Then this November the coordinated terror attacks on Friday the 13th slayed so many more.

In between, I watched news in my other home, the States, and saw more violence, by police with unchecked power, hateful political speech, and in a year with more than one mass shooting per day, by too many people armed to the teeth.

Back in Europe a massive refugee crisis saw wave after wave of suffering people wash up onto these shores. And all around, everywhere – from university students gunned down in Garisa to bombs in Beirut – so much sorrow and death.

I lost my words for awhile. What to do in the face of so much pain? These huge issues left me feeling lost and bereft.

But on the personal side, I experienced wonderful things. Two of my dreams even came true.

  • My first novel found a publisher. Yes, four years after I first announced it as finished on this here blog (ahem, watch those optimistic claims, and whoa, how the years careen!), my book finally found a fine home with Queen’s Ferry Press. I am (a wee bit terrified, but mostly, overwhelmingly) thrilled.  There’s now more of a wait (pub date is April 2017!), but I’ve grown pretty patient, I must say. I will share more with you when we’re closer and there’s more news to tell!
I gave this as my current photo when the press asked for one, but I think I'm going to smile in my next one ;)

I gave this as my current photo when the press asked for one, but I think I’m going to smile bigger in my next one.

 

  • I became a dual national. Friends, I never thought I’d get to say this, but it’s true: I am French. After a long process (see patience evoked above), I acquired French nationality in 2015. My naturalization ceremony was held in November – just one week after the attacks. A poignant fact: there were 64 of us newly naturalized citizens at the ceremony. We came from 30 different countries.Vive la France.

    Naturalization collage
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    On Christmas Eve, I defrosted my fridge and deep cleaned my bathroom – part of my preparation for starting the new year fresh. Then my beau came over with Thai takeout and we watched the film “Tomorrowland.” So simple. So easy. The no-stress holiday. “It’s one of the most beautiful Christmases I’ve ever spent,” he said.

    This is it. Tiny pleasures. Love. What gifts.

    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives,” wrote Annie Dillard.

    What if we focused on these gifts, on love, on what we are doing every day?

    What if we stayed awake, stayed alive to all the small beauties surrounding us?

    Flying trees, yummy takeout food, butterfly kisses, and so many things I cannot yet conceive.

    Intention: big gratitude.

    Present, present, present, said the man on the street today.

    I’ll stay present in the moment, in this world.

    With these hopes I welcome 2016.

    Peace, love, and light to you.

    Gift, gift, gift.

First WIP Report

Cozy corner - pillows, blankets, cushions. Plus bowls full of writing prompts.

Cozy corner – pillows, blankets, cushions. Plus bowls full of writing prompts.

“It’s so funny,” my beau said one morning as I was working through a to-do list to launch WIP. “You had this idea and just did it.” Without my usual hand-wringing, he was sweet enough to omit.

It’s true. Often I’m wracked with indecision. In considering how to proceed (or even whether to), I’ll poll loved ones, tally pros and cons, worry over small details – or become paralyzed pondering the sheer number of details there are.

But every once in awhile, I move forward with little fuss. I make the road by walking.

Audrey at her writing deskAnd thus it was with Write-in Paris (WIP). I had the thought to host collective writing sessions in my home and so…well…I decided to try it! I built a bare-bones website, designed some flyers, then started spreading the word. And voila! Just like that a new community and the highlight of my fall was born.

Y’all, we’re in the first session’s last week and it’s been a joy! I call WIP a “no-angst place to create” and the reality of it matched the hope. I’m so excited to keep going.Anne Ditmeyer - WIP

I’m grateful for the writers who come each week and work in my salon. Some have returned to novels and memoirs they’d been neglecting for too long; one turned his attention to a new script. There are those who are writing articles for magazines and others keeping a personal journal, jotting down impressions in their diary.

What binds us is the desire for a dedicated time and space to write – with the built-in commitment to show up regularly for our work. In essence, WIP serves as a supportive accountability circle; we know we’ll be surrounded by others also working and so we keep our butt in the chair.

I’ve been impressed with the focus cultivated in the room. Truly, those 2 hours of work time are treated as inviolable and we stick to it. You’ll see some with their pens moving gracefully across paper, hear fingers tapping wildly on keyboards in other corners. Some, like me, spend a lot of time staring off into space (hey, daydreaming is important for creativity!).

Emily and Sara - WIP

I believe we’re all buoyed by the communal feeling that everyone is working as they should. It’s a quiet, relaxed space.

I usually sit in the meditation chair. (Perhaps that's why I space out in the good way?)

I usually sit in the meditation chair. (Perhaps that’s why I space out in the good way?)

I love how comfortable people feel – that was very much my aim. People get up and make themselves tea when they want; kick off their shoes, too. We have a nice chat at the end, once our work time is through (how much lighter you feel conversing after you’ve done what you said you would do!)

“It’s actually really helpful,” my beau concluded one evening. Yes, he’s the one working on the script and after initial considerate but confused support (creative writing classes – not to mention a write-in! – are still strange concepts in France), he is an enthusiastic participant himself.

Indeed. It is helpful. Sometimes the simplest idea can be the best.

Mirror effect - WIP
Feel free to check out the kind testimonials from WIP’s first session….then sign up for the next ones.

(I’m also open to holding WIP during other days and times if there’s demand. Let me know if there’s a better slot for you!)

Vacances scolaires special (2 weeks)

– Daytime WIP: Mondays, 3-5:30 pm, October 19 & 26.
– Evening WIP: Thursdays, 7-9:30 pm, October 22 & 29.

Session Two (6 weeks)*:

– Daytime WIP: Mondays, 3-5:30 pm, November 2-December 7
– Evening WIP: Thursdays, 7-9:30 pm, November 5-December 10

*Make-up dates: December 14 & 17

WIP Collage

‘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!)’

Write-in Paris (WIP) !

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Boulevard Voltaire. Photo by Sean Fitzroy.

Closed shops with handwritten notes on their shuttered doors announcing vacation, emptier streets so tempting the urge to walk in the middle of them sometimes overtakes. Cafes are even more relaxed than usual. Linger, linger.

But crowds still appear in parks with picnic baskets and blankets to watch outdoor movies. Sunny enough this year, too, for Paris Plages (ends this Sunday). The tourist sites must be packed, as well, though I haven’t been anywhere near those for awhile.

It’s August in Paris. A slow, delicious month. Counterintuitively to some, it’s my favorite one. I love working during this time. Less pressure in the air as others holiday, I feel as if I’m getting ahead.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

Corner cafe. Photo by Michele Filgate.

I’ve come up with an idea, friends, and I’m excited to share. I hope you will join if you can.

Starting in September, I will begin hosting “write-in” sessions in my home. Not a workshop. Not a class. Rather “communal scribble sessions in the City of Light.”

So often, the biggest challenge in writing is the most basic of steps: sitting down and staying there to do it. I think a lot about why it’s so hard to keep one’s butt in the chair – resistance, doubt, distractions, fear.

I know I’m not alone. It’s a solitary act, writing. And yet we, writers, are a tribe.

What if I created a community specifically to foster collective creative energy in a supportive environment? Offered a cozy space to focus on projects, our concentration on solo work buoyed by a group?

WIP websiteI’ve launched Write-In Paris (WIP) and would love for you to take a look. Think of it as a weekly date with your writing in good company. Consider it a membership to a writer’s gym – only this gym is always super fun with like-minded souls. You’ll commit to your writing practice and it’s a promise you’ll want to keep.

I’m looking forward to the rentree now. I can’t wait to put WIP into play!

Please visit the Write-In Paris (WIP) website for full details on schedules and pricing. Then, I hope you sign up!

Thoughts? Ideas? I welcome your suggestions of how to make WIP great and how to spread the word. Thank you!

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!)’

Keys to a Beautiful Heart

Newfound Journal screenshotThis week we’ve had sunny days, a spike in pollution (smog swallowed the Eiffel Tower), and today, an uneventful solar eclipse – from here it looked like any other gray Paris sky.

It is also the first day of spring. Let us celebrate what we can.

I have a small little thing to celebrate, too: publication of a micro-essay in a lovely literary journal.

Here’s a link to my short piece, “Keys to a Beautiful Heart” in Newfound Journal.

Enjoy your weekend!


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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