The suitcases are unpacked, the clothes washed, the photos sorted, and the memories treasured. Talk of another future visit – someday – is happening, with a slightly different plan, and preferably, not during l’été – the summer. But it was a fabulous trip, a welcome break from routine and a wonderful time to share with the love of my life. We spent a lot of time together, spoke French (well, I did, and he did un peu), and saw sights both famous and little-known, the latter just as impressive.
We started in Nice and ended in Paris, visiting many other villes, villages and a chateau in between. With sporadic access to wi-fi (in French, it rhymes with leafy), we stayed “dark” for the most part – only a little frustrating, and actuellement quite liberating. And neither of us “worked.”
At the end of week one, we traveled to a city in the south, Montpellier, and had lunch at a nearby Mediterranean plage – beach – in a town called Palavas-les-flots. It was a nostalgic stop on our journey – the place where I spent a year as a college student, where my boyfriend (now my husband) sent me letters and flowers. Visiting it with him after so many years together was indescribably romantic. Since my novel takes place there in an earlier time, our voyage to Montpellier and Palavas doubled as research; when we got home, I did a final fact-check review of the story and tweaked just a few lines, as necessary. But even though much has changed there since 1979, much is also the same.
Now, chez nous, it’s time to blog again, tweet and work on my next book, as I prepare au meme temps to release the first. Which brings me to the subject of today’s post: the fact that once “it’s out there,” my novel will no longer really be my own. It will belong to the reader, who will judge it and its characters. Much of the story is based on true events, but much is not. Memories from my time in France long ago are imprecise in some ways, but clear in others. But it’s not the specifics or any incongruities that worry me.
It’s le jugement.
Because even though it’s popular to claim that we don’t judge – and even say, “don’t judge me,” in truth, we do make judgments all the time. We form opinions and justify our positions. When we read fiction, I think we almost feel we own it; we decide what’s good, bad and neutral; we judge the plot, the writing and the ending. All of this is fine and well, and it’s what we as authors know as we write.
But now when I read someone else’s work, I read not so much as a reader but as another writer. I think about what led the author to write the book. I think about the travaille, the brainstorming and the planning, the edits and revisions. I think about the author choosing the title. Having grown as a writer, I’ve changed as a reader. When my book is “out there,” of course I hope that judgments are good and reviews, positive.
[Note: above photo is of The Conciergerie in Paris: once a palace, it was converted into a prison during the Revolution and became a symbol of terror. This was where Marie Antionette was imprisoned before her execution.]