Postcards from Europe, #15

Mademoiselle is studying in the south of France, but she happened to be in Paris on November 13, 2015. She returned safely to the city where she lives that weekend, and the following week, her father and I hoped that she would cancel her final trip back to Paris, scheduled for the following weekend. She had planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with two American friends in Paris. But she didn’t cancel the trip, and she decided to go.

We were worried about her, but also glad – especially because she stayed safe and all went well. She did get to see quite a lot, and without crowds of tourists making things difficult.

I am thankful for the French army and the gendarmes.




I made it back to Paris one final time! I’m so glad I came back, there was a notable increase in the number of gendarmes and army, but we saw all of the big sites, went to the catacombs, saw the Eiffel Tower lit up in tricouleur, and the Christmas markets of the Champs-Élysées! Also we had a fantastic Thanksgiving of rotiserie chicken, bread and cheese, green beans, stuffing, and mashed potatoes! And an apple tart, and champagne. This was a fantastic weekend and I can’t wait to see you soon!




Postcards from Europe, #8

You may notice that I’m posting the “Postcards from Europe” series frequently….That’s because, so far, I’ve received 14 cartes postales, and I don’t know how many more are on the way. I want to make sure I get them all published before I leave for France myself, soon…

Mademoiselle had planned 3 more trips to Paris (in November) when she wrote this postcard (two days before my birthday in October, haha).

This past weekend, November 20-22, she took her third trip to Paris to celebrate Thanksgiving with two American friends.* She posted a photo of their table on instagram and commented, “Frenchgiving (noun): when three Americans meet in Paris in late November.”



This is from my first trip to Paris, haha. We went to the Sacre Coeur, saw the sights, explored small neighborhoods, and had Moroccan food! I hope you have a fantastic birthday week!

Love you lots!



*Mademoiselle in front of La Tour Eiffel:


Words, my friends

Somehow, July came and went – in a word, that was fast!

Independence Day, The World Cup, Bastille Day, the Tour de France, the milestone birthday fête of a friend (a few weeks late)…there was so much going on!


[VIDEO of fireworks (feu d’artifice) at the Eiffel Tower in Paris, July 14, 2014]

But during juillet, I was chez moi – I wasn’t en vacances. I was working, and I didn’t write a single blog post…

Cependant, I wrote fiction.*

I’m approaching the 10k (words) mark on Book 4, a suspense novel which is not a sequel to UNDERWATER, but which does tie into it…how, I won’t reveal yet.

I’ve also been working with the team at Thomas & Mercer to get UNDERWATER ready for its rerelease in November! It will be available not only in print and on Kindle, but as an audio book too.

While working on both of those projects, I’ve been steeped in words – coming up with them, changing them, cutting them, rewriting them, considering them, looking them up – and even using them when I play Words With Friends on my phone with, well, friends.

As I said to a friend (but not a WWF friend) at the birthday fête, I’ve learned a lot since writing my first novel, MAKE THAT DEUX. Just like anyone – including him, il y a longtemps – in any new job  trade  endeavor  métier  career  occupation  well, job, you don’t know everything when you start. It takes time, and commitment.

De toute façon, while working to revise what I write, I’ve noticed a few things:

1. I tend to use these words too much (and so they get cut a lot):

at least
right now


2. I really try not to use these words:

and anything -ly (adverbs)

3. I try to do the following (with the help of my writers’ group):

minimize -ing words (put in action, instead; i.e. -ed if in past tense)
put action BEFORE dialogue, minimizing tags
insert narrative in dialogue scenes, but don’t overdo
alternate narrative scenes with dialogue-driven scenes
paint pictures with descriptions, and try to be vivid
avoid clichés (should be obvious, but I have to remember it)
minimize the use of italics – only use when necessary

For me, it’s fun to work with words…after beaucoup de travail, eventuellement, they turn into BOOKS!

• My 3rd book, ALL THE ABOVE, is creative nonfiction (a true story) and is finished! I’ll be choosing its cover this fall and planning its release for early 2015!


L’anniversaire de my (French) “Charlie Brown” Christmas Tree

I(t) made it.

Since last Christmas, I’ve kept my  Charlie Brown Christmas tree out (in my bedroom) all year. When shopping for gifts at Sur La Table earlier this month, I found the rest of the ornaments it needed, including a Buche de Noel.

This year’s tree:

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To borrow a question from my husband, How many pair of black pants  pair of boots  purses  Eiffel Towers does a person need?

Answer: Beaucoup. For this tree: five, to be exact – though one was a gift from a friend.

Our (real) tree is still up, and it will be for a few more days. It’s nine feet tall and loaded down with ornaments that we’ve collected over the years. Perhaps next year, the ornaments pictured above will go on it – but it’s too early to know that now.

When it comes time to pack up the Christmas decorations, I’m not going to want to store this little tree away in the storage room. So it just might have to stay out for an encore (but not on the dining room table).

Since I like to keep a little bit of Christmas out all year.

Last year’s Tree:

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How I’m like my protagonist(s)

Remember that scene in the movie ELF when Buddy the Elf gets on an escalator for the first time? When he puts one foot on the moving staircase, holds onto both handrails and drags the other foot behind, doing a semi-split?

I’ve never done that on an escalator, but I’ve been known to get freaked out on them. If it’s impossible to hold the handrail – if I’m lugging large suitcases or carrying a heavy desktop computer – I almost can’t even get on. Elevators bother me, too, especially if I have to ride them alone; I always fear the thing will break down, and then I’ll panic so much, I won’t be able to call for help – or that if I can, it won’t come.

I’m able to dispel such elevator-fears if other people are riding with me. But then I always think of the fact that we’re suspended by cables, riding through space. Which arouses a whole new set of fears.

Jenny, the main character in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, doesn’t have these phobias, but like me, she’s afraid of heights. Whether she’s in the Swiss Alps, the Medieval fortress of Carcassonne, France, or the Leaning Tower of Pisa, she’s afraid she’ll never make it down, or that one false move could be the end.

photo copy 4I’ve always been afraid of heights – that hasn’t changed – so it was natural to let Jenny have the same phobia since MAKE THAT DEUX is drawn from my own experience as an exchange student in France. Facing my phobia hasn’t cured it, malheureusement.

But here’s a list of places I have climbed or visited, in spite of my fear:

1. – 3. Those first three I mentioned above, where Jenny also went: the Alps, Carcassonne and the Leaning Tower;

4. The Colosseum in Rome (not a tower, I know, but it’s high)

5. (the top of) the Arc de Triomphe in Paris

6. Sacré-Coeur Basilica at Montmartre

7. (the top of) the Bell Tower at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill (I know, not that high, but still)

8. The “nosebleed” seats in the Georgia Dome and Turner Field in Atlanta, and in Sanford Stadium at the University of Georgia

9. The top of Stone Mountain, Georgia (I’ve hiked it several times, once while carrying a toddler all the way)

10. Numerous (steep) hiking trails in Arizona

11. The East Maui Volcano in Hawaii

12. Chateau Eza in Eze, France

13. The Empire State Building in New York

You may ask: What about the Eiffel Tower, pictured above next to the Leaning Tower and the Colosseum?I’ve walked over to it, but I’ve never ascended it. Last summer, in Paris with my husband, we decided it was too crowded to go up in the Tower (a good excuse).

However, I wanted to have a drink with him one evening, nearby or in it (if that can be done), to see it lit up at night. But we didn’t look into the possibility. Next time, perhaps.

I’m like Jenny in many other ways, but not all. Not even most, despite what those who know me might believe. The protagonist in my new novel (to be released later this year) is also like me in some ways. For example, “C” and I are of the exact same mind when it comes to jewelry: what we like and don’t like. And neither of us are fond of flying, though we do it.

But she’s her own person, with her own (deep) fears…

Stay tuned.

Paris, Versailles and the Louvre

One of the most fun things about being an author is having to do research.

photo copy 3A view of La Tour Eiffel from the top of the Arc de Triomphe de l’Étoile

My novel MAKE THAT DEUX takes place (mostly) in the south of France, where the protagonist, Jenny Miles, spends a year of college. Before the school year begins though, she visits Paris with the other American students on her Year-Abroad Program.

Last summer, my husband and I spent four days there at the end of our two-week, adventure-filled vacances in Portugal and France. Our time in Paris wasn’t long enough – we weren’t able do as many things as I wanted to do, or to see as much. Cependant (however), maybe it was long enough, because after staying in five other lovely spots (the Algarve, Nice, Aix, Montpellier and Lyon), we were getting tired of traveling. (Oui, we had built too many stops into our itinerary….but we were all alone, sans les enfants, et plein d’énergie!)

We arrived in Paris on a Monday, and we made the most of our time, though the city was crowded with tourists just before the London Olympics. We stayed in a friend’s spacious appartement, conveniently located near the Eiffel Tower and close to a Métro station.

Cathédrale Notre-Dame

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We chose a few things to do, and quickly decided we’d have to plan another trip, stay longer and see more. One day, we ventured to Versailles. I had been there once before, il y a longtemps, with a group of other students on a guided tour. That day, the palace wasn’t very crowded, unlike the day we visited it last summer (though these photos don’t include tout le monde):

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We visited several art and history museums in Nice, Lyon and Paris, and my favorite was the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, parce que j’aime bien les objets d’art impressionistes…But we couldn’t leave France without a visit to the Louvre. It was the first European museum I had visited as a student, way back when, and it had changed. On ce jour-là, I walked right up to the Mona Lisa; now, malheureusement, the Louvre’s most famous work of art must stay well-protected. C’est dommage.

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However, we were able to walk right up to two very famous ancient Greek statues housed in the Louvre: Venus de Milo and the Winged Victory of Samothrace, pictured below. We also saw many other less bien connu (and amazing) works of art there, much more than Jenny did in MAKE THAT DEUX.


Image 17

Our trip to France wasn’t just for la recherche, but “research” was an element très amusant et agréable in our tour de France et de Paris. Mais pour un auteur, toutes les expériences de la vie sont la recherche…

Anticipating Paris

I just read (and believe) that one of the top ten constant determiners of happiness is our ability to imagine the future and look forward to it.

I’ve always done this, and I enjoy anticipating fun future events. But I’ve learned to avoid feeling disappointed when my pre-conceived notions don’t match reality when it happens. And, that sometimes (quite often), reality surpasses my imaginings, so it pays to be flexible.*

Last spring, as my husband and I planned our two week summer vacation in Europe, I enjoyed imagining the places we would go and what it would be like. We had some good ideas about things to do during the first ten days, in Portugal, the south of France and Lyon. For our last three and a half, to be spent in Paris, we made a list of sights to see. But we knew we might not have time to see them all, or visit all les lieux touristiques.

And we didn’t. Despite the fact that we had “fast passes” to the museums,  there were just too many people — tourists! — crowding the streets and the places to see in the City of Light — La Ville Lumière.

The Champs Élysées as seen from the top of the Arc de Triomphe

On our first afternoon, we walked to the Eiffel Tower (but didn’t climb it), then took a touristy boat ride over to Notre Dame and Ile de la Cité. The next day we climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe, then made our way to Montmartre and Sacré-Coeur. We found the Moulin Rouge, spent a few hours inside the Impressionists’ Museum, the Musée d’Orsay, then met a friend for a drink on the Champs Elysées. We took a whole day away from Paris to tour Versailles (at my husband’s wish, not mine, though I was willing).

Notre Dame Cathèdrale


Our last day in Paris was a rainy one, and we spent the morning at the Louvre. Then we wandered through the streets of the Marais district, had lunch and went to the Musée Carnavalet (Musée Picasso was closed). Afterward, we found our way back to Rue de Rivoli and located the famous Angelina Tea Room, known for its hot chocolate and delicious Mont Blanc dessert. But there was a queue, and since we were tired, we decided to pass, call it a day and go have a drink before dinner.

I had a long list of places to see and things to do in Paris that we missed, including the Musée Rodin, Saint-Germain-des-Près and the Jardin du Luxembourg. Though we had dinner one night at a wonderful restaurant in Montparnasse, we didn’t have time to explore the area. Due to lack of planning, we never dined at a 1-, 2- or 3-étoile restaurant — something we would have enjoyed very much, despite the price.

Next time, we’ll plan to stay in Paris much longer, make our dinner reservations ahead, and avoid many of les lieux touristiques. 

I’m already happy just anticipating it.

*For more about those unexpected moments that are more fun than those we plan, see the post Américaine in Paris.

Américaine in Paris

A mon avis, it’s the most beautiful, most romantic city in the world.

Earlier this month, I marveled at la Tour Eiffel but didn’t climb to the top of it (though I did ascend the spiral stairs inside the Arc de Triomphe and the steps at Montmartre). Like the main character in my upcoming novel, I drank café crème ( café au lait) at petit déjeuner and, at times, beaucoup de vin at déjeuner andner. But unlike her, I only gazed at the pâtisseries.

If you follow me on Twitter (@MakeThatJulie), you may have seen other photos from my recent vacation in France, an anniversary trip for my husband and me. It was fun speaking français and teaching him some helpful phrases such as L’addition, s’il vous plaît  (Check, please). 

Though we enjoyed several lieux touristiques — monuments, museums and palaces — our most memorable moments occurred unexpectedly. Cocktails at the bar at Hotel Negresco in Nice. Lunch at a café in a petite village in the Luberon valley. Wine-tasting, explanations in French and a private dinner at a winery near Aix-en-Provence. Breakfast on the terrace at our hotel in the old section of Montpellier (and a nostalgic visit to the nearest beach). Exploring Lyon and nearby Beaujolais with French friends who hosted us for the weekend at their home. Laughing together as we figured out the Paris metro system (not that hard), and dinner at a tiny restaurant in Montparnasse that serves everyone the same (delicious) menu.

Our experiences were so different from those that I had as an exchange student in France, part of a small group from the University of North Carolina. I was on a tight budget and traveled by train all over western Europe (but not much in France) using my Eurail pass. Since then, university abroad programs have exploded – just about everyone goes somewhere to party study and experience life in another culture. My novel, to be released soon, is about a girl who spends a year of college in the south of France, her life filled with adventure, romance, and many unpredictable and memorable moments. Her story takes place in an earlier time, but her experiences are much like those of many of today’s young women.

And she dreams of going to Paris with the man she loves.

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