My most FAQ: la question posée le plus fréquemment, and a diagram

“I’m coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show…”

– Diana Ross


By far, the most frequently asked question I’m asked about my novel MAKE THAT DEUX is: “Is it autobiographical?”

If you go to the FAQ (Foire aux questions) tab above, you will see at the top:

“Is MAKE THAT DEUX a true story? No, but it is based (loosely!) on a true story.”

HOW loosely? Regardez: 

photo copy

Not drawn to scale

I must have a bit of French ancestry*, because I like mathematical concepts; quelquefois, my mind just prefers to look at things that way. The above diagram is an example of that, kind of.

Voici l’explication:

1. What Really Happened – Yes, I really spent the year 1979 – 1980 on UNC’s Junior Year Abroad in Montpellier, France. I arrived in August and came back to “the States” the following June. I left my college boyfriend, with whom I was madly in love, behind in Chapel Hill; we kept in touch with handwritten letters and a few very expensive phone calls. I have documents (and witnesses) to prove all of this.


2. My Memories – As you can see in the diagram, some of What Really Happened is entrenched in My Memories, but not all. And some of My Memories did not really, well, happen (probably).

Pourquoi? Parce que…hmm.  A., “Studies have shown” that memories tend to center around emotional events. Though I’ve always been a pretty emotional person (hopefully, in a good way), fortunately obviously, not all of my experiences during my year in France were full of drama and emotion. Some of them were though, and those were the only ones I remember.

I think.

Because, B., according to some scientists, “the very act of remembering can change our memories;” for us humans, it may even “be impossible.. to bring a memory to mind without altering it in some way.”

In other words, some of My Memories did NOT really happen (difficult for me to believe, but okay, because that fact was helpful when I wrote my fictional story),

photo copy 2

3. MAKE THAT DEUX – Many of My Memories made it into my novel, but not 100% of them. Simply put, my story was somewhat different than Jenny’s.

And to answer that “autobiographical” question: Look closely at the diagram above and you see that, although My Memories overlap What Really Happened, and MAKE THAT DEUX overlaps My Memories, only a small portion intersects all three areas.

And I’m not “coming out” telling what that portion is…I guess we could say, see #1. above.

Or we could say, qui sait? (who knows?)

Finally, you may be wondering, “So then, what IS that part of MAKE THAT DEUX in the diagram that’s outside of My Memories (and, necessarily, What Really Happened)?”

C’est la FICTION!

“My book’s coming out, I want the world to know, Got to let it show…”

* My mother’s maiden name is Bellamy: Belle Amie?

Call me, maybe, but don’t break my heart: Sortir avec quelqu’un

From what I’ve seen, dating has changed since mon époque.* But I wonder why les jeunes filles gens of today sometimes make going out with someone more difficult than it used to be.

It’s been years decades since I’ve sorti avec mon copain — gone out with, or dated, my boyfriend (or any other guy – but not au même temps, of course). And though my husband and I have gone out on many a “date night” during our marriage, well, once you’re married, you’re not dating anymore.

But way back when, we were dating. Normalement, he would call me, ask me out, I would say “Yes,” and we would set up a rendez-vous (date). He would call me from a “land line” or even a pay-phone similar to the one in the photo, and I would answer the phone. If he called and I didn’t answer, it meant I wasn’t there, and he would call again. When the time for our date came, I would be almost ready, and we would go to a movie or out to dinner.

I’m not one to changer d’avis (change my mind) very often, so it worked.

But back then, when a guy called and asked you out, if you said “Yes,” you didn’t cancel on him at the last minute (or even before that), unless you got sick, someone died, or you had an accident. Yes meant yes, and it didn’t mean maybe. There was no easy way to cancel, anyway, like there is today. So you just went out — and had fun.

Like lots of people, I’ve enjoyed listening to a popular song recently that demonstrates (I think) how different dating is now:


Hey, I just met you,

And this is crazy,

But here’s my number,

So call me, maybe?


Hmm. Is she going to answer the call, I wonder? When I first heard those lines, it reminded me of a song that mon copain at UNC and I liked, featuring these lines:


Why do you build me up (build me up) Buttercup, baby 

Just to let me down (let me down) and mess me around 

And then worst of all (worst of all) you never call, baby 

When you say you will (say you will) but I love you still 

I need you (I need you) more than anyone, darlin’ 

You know that I have from the start 

So build me up (build me up) Buttercup, don’t break my heart 


In my novel — about to be released — characters go on dates, and (because they live in a time before cell phones, or even answering machines) they don’t stand up their dates. They live up to their commitments, even if they’ve only committed to Saturday night. “Oui” means “Yes.”  

And like today, no one wants a broken heart.

* Autrefois, or back in MY day

La Compétition: Bravo!

Les jeux olympiques have changed over time, but la compétition hasn’t.

This year’s summer olympics took place right after my trip to France; as we were leaving Europe, tout le monde was arriving. Watching the olympics on television, I was amazed by the athletes’ physical abilities, their strength, courage and determination — and their sheer competitiveness.

I’m not competitive by nature, though my husband might disagree. In fact, my recurring statement, “If I can’t win, I’m not playing,” has become a sort of household inside joke, since it really means I am competitive.

I want to win — just like all the athletes who competed in London this summer. But I suspect they all believed that they could win in their sport. They wanted to win. Otherwise, why train? Why even compete? Though I exercise, I don’t try to beat others in races or sports. I’m not a big game- or card-player either, but I like to compete in some mental matchups. I’ve gotten very good at Scrabble, for example, thanks to a desire to beat a certain sister-in-law, and no one in my house will even play me in Mastermind (see above quote).

I want my teams to win, too. Since I’m a Tar Heel, I love to watch UNC win at play basketball, especially against arch-rival Duke (though I’ve developed a soft spot in my heart for the Duke Medical Center). I’m also a big UGA Bulldawg fan, and I love the Atlanta Falcons.

UNC 2009 Basketball Championship sculpture, until recently located in front of Spanky’s restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, North Carolina

But back to personal bests and achievements. In this age of social media, I find it a bit troubling weird that so many people post not just those, but all their personal (only good) news, big and small.  Many also share updates about their fabulous trips* as part of a carefully shaped and managed narrative. What are friends and followers to think but “Good for you?” Or, Bravo!

A recent WSJ article by Elizabeth Bernstein titled Are We All Braggarts Now? examined this fairly new phenomenon. Though I’m active on Twitter and (finally) about to create a Facebook page, aside from writerly and the odd motivational (and sometimes cryptic) tweets, I’m endeavoring to keep personal business personal. But that’s just me.*  And, well, marketing is…marketing.

The protagonist of my novel, coming out soon, gets to watch an historic and exciting olympic game, and, though she’s only twenty, reflects on its significance.

But she quickly reverts her attention back to her own life, as any normal twenty-year-old would.

*Oops, I guess I’ve been doing that whole look-at-the-photos-from-my-fab-vacay-in-France thing in recent blog posts. Desolee!

Exchange students: Les étudiants en échange

The Iranian hostage crisis began November 4, 1979, less than three months after I arrived in the south of France as a 19-year-old university exchange student.

I was part of a group from the University of North Carolina that attended a French university in Montpellier, France. We followed the crisis that gripped the world from the French perspective and read about it in Le Monde as we waited for it to end. But we went home to America long before it did.

I was a legal adult at the time, old enough to vote and drink alcohol, but much more concerned with my own life than with American security issues or the lives of the hostages. The crisis ended while I was still in college; a new president was elected, I graduated from UNC, found a job, married and raised a family. Then in 2006, I read Mark Bowden’s brilliant and suspenseful account of the story, Guests of the Ayatollah, told through the eyes of those who lived it.

The events of that year and the attitude of the time are relevant today, and the world is perhaps more dangerous. But more and more young people are choosing to spend time as exchange students in other countries, to experience another culture and learn a foreign language. Several colleges, including UNC, still offer a study-abroad program in Montpellier. In 2010, “Kim,” one of my American roommates in France,* sent me an article titled French Lessons by Aubrey Whelan, a Penn State student who attended the same French university that “Kim” and I had. As I read about Aubrey’s experience in Montpellier, I was amazed to learn that many things about life as an exhange student there hadn’t changed.

A month ago, my husband and I visited the city and Université Paul Valéry at the end of our week in the south of France. When I was a student there, costs were much lower, but still high, relatively speaking. Bureaucracy, a fact of life in France, was just as frustrating, and strikes just as frequent. The architecture of “Paul Val” was the same Soviet-chic, only a younger version, and class formats were the same. Like the students of today, my friends and I gathered at Place de la Comédie and at discos, and hung out at cafés and on the beach. Like Aubrey’s, our French skills fluctuated even as they improved.

And just like for Aubrey, my time in France was a life-changing experience.

In recent years, my family hosted two French high school students as part of a three week summer exchange program, and my teenage daughter was hosted by a French family on the same program. She hopes to study somewhere in France for a semester or a year during her time in college.

I think that’s une très bonne idée.

* “Kim” and I shared an apartment with “Lisa” during our year in France because there weren’t enough French host families for everyone in our UNC group of exchange students.

L’université: College costs

I just read the recent Wall Street Journal article New Course in College Costs and was struck by how much things have changed.

With college costs increasing so much since 1990 (150%) and federal aid rising even more (242%), it’s hard to believe there’s no connection. Whether costs have skyrocketed due to market demand only (as some say), or whether it’s because the government has gotten so deeply involved, one thing is sure: college debt has risen dramatically.

When my husband and I attended the university where we met, he was from in-state and I was from out-of-state. Compared to today, the price of tuition was a bargain for both of us, but to help pay for our expenses, we had to work during the school year and of course the summer. We got no federal aid — grants or loans. He was a sandwich maker at Sadlack’s Deli, located near Hector’s Restaurant on the corner of Henderson St. and Franklin St. I worked at Spanky’s, on the corner of Franklin and Columbia, and at the Carolina Coffee Shop, a Chapel Hill landmark and institution. Both restaurants are still open and neither have changed that much.

I was a waitress at the CCS in the late seventies while Byron Freeman owned it, and I’ve read that writer David Sedaris was also one of his employees a few years earlier. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as classical music played in the background, the Carolina Coffee Shop was a coffee shop before coffee shops were cool. Graduate students hung out there in groups or alone; couples went there on dates, and all kinds of students and families waited in line for a table on weekend mornings. I worked twenty hours or so a week and once served Chapel Hill visitor Alan Alda and some of his friends.

For a time, I juggled shifts at the CCS and Spanky’s to make as much money as I could while a full-time student at the university. Before we graduated, both my husband and I also worked (at different times) at another restaurant, the Country Squire, a steakhouse located between Chapel Hill and Durham; it was closed and torn down when I-40 was built where it stood.

I was able to go to France for my junior year and attend Université Paul Valéry because I was charged North Carolina, in-state tuition. Though I traveled throughout that year, I did it cheaply and watched my expenses. I never even considered going into debt to go to college, and I didn’t know many students who did.

Now, graduating with a college loan to pay off is almost ordinaire. I find that very troubling and wonder how people deal with it. When my husband and I graduated in the early 80s, we had little money but no debt. We got jobs, lived on a shoestring, and got married young, happy to be together and independent. With college costs so high today, who can work through college, pay for most of it themselves and graduate in four years with no debt? There just doesn’t seem to be a good raison why things have to be the way they are.*

When I was a student, few UNC dorms had air conditioning, not everyone owned a typewriter (I didn’t), and Michael Jordan played in Carmichael Auditorium. Professors were paid less and worked more, and fewer administrators filled offices. I suppose things have really changed.

One thing that hasn’t changed, though: you still have to pay back what you owe.

*Earlier this year, I read Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids—and What We Can Do About It by Andrew Hacker. The author examines the system and makes some very good recommendations. I hope things change.

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