“Be my guest,” she said!

Last month, I went to see Beauty and the Beast, performed by students at my kids’ high school. It was magnifique! Especially since I love pretty much anything French. My favorite song was “Be Our Guest.” Formidable!

Last week, my new friend Rachelle Ayala invited me to be her guest on her blog. Read about me and my book MAKE THAT DEUX here on her entry of today, April 9, 2013.

Merci, Rachelle!


All things French: tout ce qui est français

What is it about the French? A joie de vivre, or just… a certain je ne sais quoi?

Je ne sais pas exactement, mais… for me (and millions of others), it’s an unmistakable something. For a country, ça me rappelle (it reminds me) of…that something, possessed by some girls (and women). Lisa, a character in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, has it:

that something which is undeniably attractive, captivating and alluring.

En revanche (on the other hand), perhaps not everybody feels that way. Some people are not big fans of la politique en France, la culture, or even la cuisine (but two out of three isn’t bad). And some people are fans of all three.

I love all things French, or tout ce qui est français, including the language, the people, and the beauty. I even like their sense of humor,* and while I’m not crazy about existentialism, I get it, though some of their movie endings me rendent folle. De toute façon, mon sujet:

Here are a few of my favorite (French) things:

Champagne. Wine. Cheese. BoulangeriesPâté. Truffles. Baguettes

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Cafés. Café au laitPâtisseries. Macaroons.

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Museums. Promenades, and parks. Monuments. Art. Palaces. Châteaux. Vineyards. Lavendar.

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Nice. La plage. Les peitits villages de Provence. Aix. Avignon. Nîmes. Montpellier. Carcassonne. Lyon. Beaujolais.


A street in Montpellier where I once motored on my mobylette, régulièrement


photo copy 5A view of the Champs -Elysées

Jenny Miles (the main character in my novel) has her own favorite things about life in France, but some of them she simply can’t afford with her few extra French francs, back when no one had thought of (?) the Euro (!) . It’s not that she doesn’t have un rond (well, except for that second time in Paris), but she is glad to get free admittance to lots of museums with her Carte d’Etudiant (student ID):


*Below, une blague, courtesy of mon prof, Madame Marie-Hélène:  “Si vous n’avez pas ‘un rond,’ ca veut dire que vous n’avez pas d’argent !! ( penniless! )”


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.


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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…

Two, Dos, Deux: as easy as 1, 2, 3

Most people know how to say “two” in Spanish: “dos.” Rhymes with “close,” as in, “Close to You.”

Since my novel MAKE THAT DEUX was published, however, I’ve only heard a few who know how to say “two” in French: “deux.” Rhymes with…hmm.

I can’t think of a rhyme in English that doesn’t have a consonant ending, like “could,” “look,” or “put.” But you can pronounce“deux” – even if you took didn’t take French in high school. N’ayez pas peur (don’t be afraid): make it rhyme with one of the above, leave off that consonant sound, and you’ve got it.


The third word of my novel’s title, taken from the Cover

For a writer, choosing a title for your book is kind of like naming your baby: usually, you give it some serious thought, and it’s not always facile (easy). When you’re writing a novel and you tell others (prematurely) what you’ve decided to name your  baby book, you want to hear them say, “That’s great!” not “Really?”

But once you’ve published your book, the baby’s been born and a name title given. People do in fact say “That’s great!” or even “I love it!” – no matter what they think. They don’t feel as free to tell you their opinion; if they can’t say something nice, they don’t say anything. Plus, like baby names, I believe that titles grow on people, and they come to fit the baby novel. At least, people look for reasons why names titles fit. As a writer, I love it when they find them.

But when people aren’t sure how to pronounce your book’s title (perhaps because you’ve chosen a word from another language?), there could be a problem.

I’ve heard the troisième word of my novel’s title (mis)pronounced as “do” most often. But “Make That Do” suggests something totally different than what I had in mind with “Make That Deux” when I was brainstorming for titles, back whenever-it-was.

I’ve only told a few friends the (English) one-word [working] title of my work-in-progress, a Suspense/Thriller, and so far, reception has been lukewarm. But it hasn’t bothered me because, well, I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because this book isn’t my first;  I’m not a new parent anymore, I’ve got my own way of doing things now (what works for me), and I’ve got a bit of a thicker skin.

Back to MAKE THAT DEUX:  My book is set in the south of France. If One is the Loneliest Number, and Three‘s a Crowd, Two just seems, well, parfait (perfect). How does the title fit the novel? You’ll have to buy it, and read it, to find out!

Books, Movies and Les Misérables

The movie Les Misérables (Les Mis, or “Lay-MIZ”) won ‘Best Comedy or Musical’ at last night’s Golden Globe Awards, a fact which made me très contente.

The ‘Best Drama’ award went to my other favorite movie of 2012: Argo.

I didn’t watch the Golden Globes — I was just too tired after watching the Atlanta Falcons come back to beat the Seattle Seahawks in the last 34 seconds of the NFL playoff game yesterday afternoon, but that’s another post. I love to know who wins the Globes (and the Oscars), but malheureusement, I don’t always hardly ever stay up to watch the award shows; pour moi, seeing the highlights (and the outfits) the next morning suffit.

I’d only seen 2 or 3 of the other films being considered (I just saw Les Mis last week), though I plan to watch most of the rest. Pourquoi? Parce que I LOVE movies, almost as much as I love books.

Les Mis has a special place in my heart and mind for many reasons. One reason, of course, is that the story is adapted from the French novel by Victor Hugo. Another reason is that it’s a musical, an opera really, and the songs are fantastique; I grew up in a household where musicals weren’t admired, so maybe that’s why my rebellious self loves them that much more.

But the third reason I love Les Mis is that one of my sons acted in the play in high school a few years ago, playing the role of the innkeeper Thénardier, and he was amazing, funny, and terrific.

The Playbill


This son (who had played basketball, baseball, soccer, football and had run cross country) began acting and singing in high school plays at the age of fifteen. Two years later he joined a wonderful cast to sold-out crowds; the production, now a legend at his school, was marvelous, and standing ovations were standard. It was a high school play, like unlike any other.

I saw the film Argo not long ago, and found it intriguing and fascinating. Based on real events,* it takes place in 1979-1980, the time setting of my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX. I was captivated not just by the story or the actors, but their clothes and hairstyles, since Jenny and her friends in MAKE THAT DEUX were in college during that era.

So it was a bit like seeing the Golden Globe “casual” outfits of my novel.

Which brings me to books. I love them, more than movies, and the best movies are those that are adapted from books: novels, non-fiction, even children’s books.

My favorite children’s books are those written by Dr. Seuss, and I believe one of them was made into a very entertaining movie a few years ago (“A Person’s a Person, no matter how small.”)

While browsing in a shop today, I came across these 2 Dr. Seuss editions that I just had to purchase (guess why?)


Hmm…if only I’d had these when my kids were little. Then, they would might have learned to speak français as well as English…

* A captivating and compelling book about the Iranian Hostage Crisis of 1979 is Mark Bowden’s Guests of the Ayatollah. I highly recommend it.

La Sensibilité et la Thérapie

 The French word sensible means sensitive, not sensible; sensible/sensible and sensibilité/sensibility are examples of faux-amis (literally, “false friends”) — they look alike but mean very different things. On the other hand, thérapie/therapy are vrais-amis (“true friends”), or words spelled alike with the same or similar meanings.* As the year draws to a close, il est naturel to look back, to look ahead, and to reflect…a process that causes my own sensibilité (and my need for la thérapie) to surface.

First, la sensibilitéWhile others seldom accuse me of being too sensible, many feel the need to point out my (over-)sensitive nature. Through the years, I’ve worked hard to reduce the “over-” part, at the same time not wishing to lose the “sensible/sensitive” part, or to slide into insensitivity. I’m an emotional person, and while some in my family are, too, some aren’t. They’re the tough ones, the ones who find it easy easier to compartmentalize, to bypass the drama, to keep cool. To move on, confidently — or at least, to seem to.

By contrast, I’m more likely to live by these words in a song by Joan Armatrading**:

Show some emotion

Put expression in your life

Light up, if you’re feeling happy

But if it’s bad then let those tears roll down

Does emotion, and la sensibilité reside in the heart or the head? Jenny, le personnage principal in my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX, considers this question, and I won’t say what she decides. But two years ago, after an extremely talented neurosurgeon at Duke skillfully removed a tumor in the center of my son’s brain, I read that some doctors believe the area is connected with our ability to make decisions and experience feelings. Miraculously, my son survived his cancer and thrives in college, feeling, thinking and learning (I trust) every day.

Back to my sensitive nature. I take the kindness — and the unkindness — of others to heart (or maybe, head). With loss and tragedy happening all around in this world, perhaps it’s good not to focus on “the little things,” but to be tougher, stronger, more reserved. But sometimes it is the little things: if we really dislike someone, then every little thing they do is annoying. Maybe that’s when it’s time for sensitivity toward others, empathy and understanding.

Which brings me to la thérapie. No, not the kind you’re thinking; other than a massage therapist, a paid professional doesn’t work for me. Reading does, and talking to a close friend (ideally, my best friend, mon mari) works even better. But I find the best therapy to be (creative) writing. I don’t know why it works, but it does, heureusement.

Now back to my Work In Progress (WIP), my second novel…and la thérapie!

Bonne année 2013!

Un puzzle 3D de la Tour Eiffel: la thérapie pour quelqu’un d’autre dans la famille (pas moi; je n’aime pas les puzzles!):

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* For more on faux-amis, see my post “L’esprit de l’escalier, spiral staircases and faux-amis”

** Another Joan Armatrading song is the title of Part 3 of MAKE THAT DEUX. Savez-vous pourquoi?

Letter to France

Dear France,

As someone tells Jenny in my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX,

“you ‘ave captured my heart.”

I’m not sure exactly when you did it. The first time I saw you, I was a little bleary-eyed, and I felt a little awkward. I had been looking forward to meeting you for so long — years — and I had started to believe it would never happen.

You were just so, well, distant.

When I started to feel comfortable with you (and you know it took weeks), it was almost like I’d always known you. I was so at home with you. It was like déjà vu. Sort of.

I didn’t know everything about your past…but what I did know, intrigued me. What I didn’t know didn’t seem to matter.

You understood me, even when I struggled to express myself. You encouraged me and seemed happy to have me. You shattered the stereotypes about les français — your people — when they politely welcomed me with a “Bonjour, Mademoiselle!”

They listened patiently as I spoke your language, learned its expressions and worked on my accent. They charmed me with their own accents when they practiced their anglais, particulièrement when your (good-looking) young men said “ze” for “the” and “zat” for “that.”

I know you had greeted millions of girls before me who studied traveled had a blast abroad for a year. Some of them loved you as much as I did, but, I dare say, not all. Some of them were just playing with you. Some just wanted to shop and drink wine, discovering but later forgetting about your certain, well,  je ne sais quoi.

Mais pour moi, c’était impossible.

I never forgot you, even as my French vocabulary dwindled and my memories of our time together faded. I kept my few pictures of you, not knowing that (or how) I would use them someday. For years, I dreamed I would come back to visit you with the man I love.

Then, un jour in the summer of 2012, I did.

I had spent months getting ready to see you again, studying your language —  listening, reading and practicing it weekly. I had written my novel (set in your south) and was getting ready to release it this fall. I had planned an itinerary for our visit en juillet, but our emploi du temps was flexible and open to spontaneity.

Which was fortunate, because our unplanned moments with you were the best ones.

I loved seeing my husband discover you: the Côte d’Azur, Provence, Languedoc, Beaujolais… Paris. I loved hearing him try out the French phrases he had learned. I loved going with him to see parts of you that I had never seen. I loved taking him to see other places that had once been very familiar to me, that I had been while thinking of him.

He already knew me well, but now he knows me  — and my heart — even better.

A la prochaine,



Lyon and Beaujolais, with the French and a faux pas

In my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny sees a lot of western Europe, but only a little of France itself. On school breaks, she travels mostly with Americans, staying in youth hostels and seeing the sights without the aide of les français.

Which is a shame. But that may keep her from committing too many faux pas in front of the French. Goodness knows she experiences enough embarrassing moments as it is…

Par contre, one of the highlights of our trip to France last summer was the weekend my husband and I spent with a French couple in Lyon. My faux pas (and I hope it was just the one) happened on Sunday…

Luc and Juliette met us at the train station on Saturday morning. Earlier, we had exchanged letters and emails – en français et en anglais – about our visit, a stop on the way from Montpellier to Paris. Near our age but with twice the number of children, they were très agréable, insisting that we stay at their belle maison rather than pay for un hôtel.

Luc doesn’t speak much English (though he made un effort) and my husband knows little French, but Juliette’s anglais is very good. She and Luc were surprised at my ability to speak French, very encouraging and complimentary.

(The men’s language barrier wasn’t a problem, since Juliette and I could talk to each other — and translate for our husbands — and since, well, men are men.)

For two days, she and Luc entertained us, showing us around Lyon and the surrounding area like only the French can do.


Above is a postcard they sent us one Noel. That Saturday, I took this photo of a similar view:

On the Presqui’île  — a peninsula between the Rhône and the Saône Rivers — we toured the Musée des Tissus et des Arts Décoratifs and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, then stopped for une boisson at a café off the famous Place des Terreaux. 

Refreshed, we crossed un pont (bridge) and explored vieux Lyon.










We stopped to look in the window at the famous Musée Miniature et Cinéma and then wandered into a traboule between two main streets.

A window display of the Musée Miniature et Cinéma

Luc explained that these hidden passageways came in handy during World War II for the French to hide from — and fool — the Germans, and that people still live in the apartments which share covered spiral staircases:

Luc and Juliette were wonderful hosts, even helping us navigate the Versailles site web on their ordinateur (computer) on Sunday, in preparation for our visit to the palace the following week.

That afternoon, they decided we should explore the nearby region known as Beaujolais. We happened upon a vrai (real) French Renaissance Festival in the medieval village of Ternand just in time to watch a play (complete with horses and jousting) performed en français.

But earlier that day, after mass at their church just down the street, and during our visit to Les Halles in Lyon,* I made an erreur.

As we walked through the vast indoor market, Juliette made a few purchases, and I noticed poultry, fish, meat and cheese displayed in ways I had never imagined. Then Luc suggested we sit down at a café for a glass of vin and some raw huîtres — oysters. He ordered for us.

I listened and thought he had requested 3 oysters for each of us. Since I love oysters (and didn’t realize that Juliette already had un repas waiting for us at home), I interrupted en français and asked that he double it.


Luc had actually ordered 24 oysters, not 12. But being a polite Frenchman (and perhaps assuming that Americans like more of everything), he changed the order to 48. Which I didn’t understand  hear  catch, until they arrived.

Good thing oysters are so low calorie. They were delicious, I was embarrassed, and later, we all ate a very light dejeuner et dîner! 

*for more, see my post “Les écharpes, le fromage et café crème (scarves, cheese and espresso with cream)”

La séduction et l’élégance: summing it up

Just after my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX was released* last week, a friend sent me this recent feature in the (UK) Telegraph Travel  titled

“36 Hours in…Montpellier” France. Its first line:

“Montpellier, the most seductive city in the French south at any time, is elegant and cultured, with an autumn sun warm enough to sit out on its squares.”

And, long ago, I did that with friends…


Just over three months ago, I returned to Montpellier for the first time in many years. I spent 36 hours in the city and at the closest beach (in nearby Palavas-les-flots) with mon mari during our vacation. We walked by Le Riche – the café in the above photo in Place de la Comédie — but didn’t stop, because we found it crowded with summer touristes. We chose instead a quieter spot to have a drink, nearer to the city’s own Arc de Triomphe and close to Place de la Canourgue. Later, we had dinner at a tiny, elegant restaurant in the area. For so many reasons, it was the perfect place to relax and celebrate a milestone anniversary.

MAKE THAT DEUX is set in Montpellier and Palavas, and the girls in MAKE THAT DEUX explore the Montpellier of an earlier time.

Has very much changed over the years? I think this sums it up:

Oui, et non.

In their époque, unlike today, studying abroad for a year or semester was not something that many people did. A university degree was (relatively) expensive, but not ridiculous. Moving back in with your parents after college was uncommon. College kids age 18 and over could drink legally in the U.S., not just in Europe. Cigarette smoking wasn’t restricted, nor was it even unacceptable. People — including lovers — wrote letters to each other on paper, and sent them through the mail.

What hasn’t changed? Back then, like today, terrorism was a major issue, and events gripped the world stage. A democrat was in the White House. College graduates had a very hard time finding a job. But while IN college, in addition to studying, students went to parties, met new people and went out on dates. Sometimes they even fell in love.

And — like today — they didn’t tell their parents anything everything about what they were doing, especially when it involved la séduction…


* See my HOME page for how to order MAKE THAT DEUX! Merci!



Bonjour! L’etiquette française

The French are a very polite group, à mon avis.

First of all (and this has been true pendant longtemps), everywhere in France, one always greets another — n’importe qui (anyone) — with a Bonjour (or, among friends, Salut). Bonjour, Madame. Bonjour, Monsieur. 

It’s de rigueur (en anglais et en français), if not obligatoire, as we used to say when I was a student in Montpellier, France many years ago. It’s part of French etiquette: one doesn’t ask another person for assistance, or begin speaking at all, before the polite French greeting.

Les français teach their children good manners, la politesse, and from what I observed when I was in France this summer, they do a very good job.* Polite French children grow up to be polite French adults. Taxi drivers, hotel staff, museum workers, merchants, wine makers, teachers, lawyers, accountants, actors, and yes, even waiters treated me and my husband with courtesy and good manners.

Maybe it helped that I speak French, and my husband speaks un peu — he learned some key words and phrases, and when to use them.

Par exemple: Bonjour, Bonsoir et Bon week-end.

Even French toll booth machines on the autoroute are polite. As we drove from city to city in the south of France, we encountered many of them unexpectedly, panicking only the first time, when I was driving (“Do we need exact Euro change? Are we in the right lane? Does it take credit cards?”) The answers were no, yes and yes. Upon the successful completion of our payment, the machine replied in a cheery French female voice: “Merci! Bon voyage!” 

The French equivalent of ‘ave a nice day, “Thank you! Have a good trip!” just seemed more, well, personal. And it made me laugh.

Back before our vacation, I heard many an American complain that the French — in particular, French Parisian waiters

1. get annoyed when tourists don’t speak any French (and don’t even try)

2. don’t linger, hover, try to strike up a conversation, learn English or read their minds, and

3. take (unnecessary?) long breaks, leaving their customers to sit leisurely and enjoy a drink and a good meal.

Hmm. Though we have much in common with the French, we live in different cultures and have different customs. And perhaps we demanding Americans just misunderstand French etiquette.

Back in my day,** I worked as a waitress (as opposed to a “server”) when waiters did not share tables, work or tips. Then, a waiter/waitress could get “up a tree” (or just, “tree’d” in North Carolina restaurant lingo) when several groups were seated at his or her tables within seconds of each other. When I was working to put myself through college, it helped that my customers not only spoke the native language, but also didn’t expect not to speak it. I didn’t linger or hover at my tables, and I didn’t tell the diners my name (why?). I did take breaks, but only when I had time — it’s the American way.

But I always politely greeted my customers and thanked them for their business (in English) —  and I made a lot of money.

* see the post L’éducation des enfants français

** à mon époque, or autrefois… More on this in an upcoming post.

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