Posts Tagged 'writing'

‘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!

**BOOK GIVEAWAY!** Deer Hunting in Paris

Deer Hunting in ParisIf the title doesn’t tip you off, I can confirm that Deer Hunting in Paris packs a ton of surprises.

Recently awarded the 2014 Travel Book of the Year by the Society of American Travel Writers, the tale follows a Korean-American preacher’s daughter from Paris, France to Paris, Maine where our liberal, long-standing vegetarian author falls in love with a conservative carnivore and learns to cook everything from moose liver to deer heart. “Julia Child prepping roadkill,” one reviewer quips.

As someone who leans toward the secular end of the spectrum, steers clear of firearms, and has always been confounded by hunting’s appeal, the book’s subtitle – A Memoir of God, Guns, and Game Meat – announced I would be entering very foreign territory. The fact that I laughed out loud on the first page (and that the funny one-liners kept coming) reassured me that I’d be in good hands for the journey. Deer Hunting in Paris is surely the most unique book I’ve ever found filed in the French travel section!

Paula Young Lee holds a doctorate from the University of Chicago and writes frequently on subjects related to human-animal relations. The author of five books and over 25 scholarly articles, she also contributes to and similar venues. She splits her time between Wellesley, Massachusetts, and West Paris, Maine.

I’m delighted she’s on the blog today – and that she’s offered to give away *2* signed copies of the book! Details on how to win at the end of the post!

Continue reading ‘**BOOK GIVEAWAY!** Deer Hunting in Paris’

Fantasy Meets Reality

Hello dear ones,

I know, I know. It’s been too long.

Don’t think I don’t think about you – because I very much do!

Sion in Parc Floral - color!
(I just set this as the new photo on my website. What do you think? Does it work? Does it say happy writer in Paris? Or actually Sion in “aris” since I’m covering the “P?” But that sounds like “heiress” which is kind of of cool, too. Ahem. Babbling!)

Life is full these days and it’s a challenge making it to the computer screen. Or rather, hard to come back to the computer after many hours spent in front of it.

My 9 to 5 (erm, later adjusted hours in my case) sees me as a content writing/editing machine (my boss actually called me a robot yesterday, in what was actually a compliment). I’m helping with the relaunch of a major website and there are exactly 678 pages to get in shape. I’m looking at every single one.

After playing writing robot, I head home to my second job – preparing lesson plans for my imminent return to Spain.

Yes! You may remember I taught creative writing last summer in a study abroad program for high schoolers in Barcelona. Well, they’ve asked me back, with even an extra class on board. I’ll teach 6 days a week, live in the dorm, accompany field trips – full immersion with the teens! It’s exhausting and exhilarating and it hasn’t even started yet. A ton to prepare.

In between all that, I’m listening to Spanish podcasts as I do errands in optimistic efforts of (re)learning the language that way.

So by the end of the day, I’m kind of braindead and can’t quite make it to the blog.

Yep, I pass the Iron Lady every day on the way to work now.

Yep, I pass the Iron Lady every day on the way to work now.

But I’ve missed you! How are you? Very well, I hope.

Today had so much sunshine – so bright, so mighty! Paris couldn’t have needed it more. It may seem boring to talk weather, but friends, really. The rain here was out of control. People were losing it; almost on the brink! (I even saw a sobbing woman run toward the tracks as a train approached. Aie! Another hazard of hard commutes! And yes, someone stopped her.)

No one knows if Mister Soleil is going to stay (I’m still wearing a heavy coat in June; just saying) so we flock outside when he appears.

What a bad blogger I’ve become – I even forgot my camera on the one nice day!

I lunched on the Champs de Mars (my office is close) then walked along the Seine a good way home. I saw that a new floating garden on the river is under construction and the Petit Palais’ columns were dressed in bright colors. Oh, I wish I could show you!

I get the impression that a lot of people think this is how we live in Paris normally – meals on the Eiffel Tower’s lawn, sunny strolls along the Seine.

It’s so far from the truth, but once in awhile it happens. Fantasy meets reality.

I took some photos for tourists as I walked through the Tuileries. I had to smile as they posed. Do they realize how rare this good fortune?

I hope your fantasy life is meeting reality in moments, too. I hope you’re having wonderful adventures, wherever you may be.

Artfully Adored ScreenshotP.S. I’m sending some link love over to Stephanie on ArtfullyAdored. She’s got a luxurious giveaway going on – perhaps make the fantasy real?

James Baldwin in Paris (New Essay Published!)

JamesBaldwinEssayScreenshotHi friends,

This is an especially gratifying one for me.

I’m thrilled to have an essay about one of my literary heroes over on Hunger Mountain.

“Another Country: James Baldwin at ‘Home’ (and) Abroad” explores how the author of such seminal American works as Notes of a Native Son and Go Tell It On the Mountain was influenced by his many years living abroad, first in Paris, and later in Istanbul. Revisiting his rich oeuvre was an amazing way to delve into questions of home, identity, and expatriation.

I’m also particularly excited because my essay sparked the journal to assemble a whole tribute to the author!

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Baldwin’s passing. I highlighted this fact in submitting the essay to explain why it was a great time to examine his legacy. I am so glad they agreed. Not only did they accept my essay, but they then went on to solicit other essays from several noted writers. I’m humbled and proud (is it possible to be both at once?) that my enthusiasm for Baldwin contributed to this tribute. Baldwin had a great impact on me and I’m delighted to shine a light on him and his work, still so moving and relevant today.

Here’s the link. Enjoy!

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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