Une interview de 5 questions avec Rona. Merci, Madame!

My friend Rona Simmons has posted her recent interview with me about my novel MAKE THAT DEUX!

You can find mes reponses to her questions on the Review and Interviews page on her blog Write, Write, Write! Here’s part of Rona’s intro:

“As a member of the Atlanta Writers Club — purportedly the largest writer’s organization in the United States — I have had the opportunity to come to know a number of emerging and established writers and to read their works covering  every genre, voice, and style and providing a wealth of innovative, insightful, and interesting reading.
A few weeks ago, I read a novel by fellow member Julia McDermott.  A fun romp, the story follows the college age protagonist as she confronts a number of trials and tribulations during her Junior Year Abroad.  Having learned that Julia herself spent time abroad, I was interested in exploring how much Julia drew from her own circumstances.  I learned this and even more….”

Merci beaucoup, Madame! Voici les questions (cliquez sur son blog pour mes responses, s’il vous plaît): 

1. Describe your book and why you chose to write it

2. What is your favorite passage and why?

3. Can you share the evolution of a few sentences of your writing … one that you labored over, revised and revised, and revised until it was just right and one that flew off the keyboard in final form, why did you make the changes you made to the first one and why did you particularly like the latter as it was?

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4. How did you edit your manuscript, assuming you did at least some editing yourself?  Did you read it aloud?  What do you think, if you did, reading aloud does that reviewing on screen or in hard copy does not?

 5.   Would you share a favorite passage from one of your favorite authors? What makes this passage special to you?

 
 

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.

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

And…Paris.

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):

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*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! )”

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Les Oscars ’13 and ’80, et une connexion

Some people who attended the 85th Academy Awards last Sunday night also attended the 52nd Academy Awards in 1980: Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Sally Field, Jane Fonda, Steven Spielberg, and William Shatner (cette fois, sur la vidéo).

Thirty-three years ago, Johnny Carson was the host of the show, presented on Monday night, April 14, 1980. About six weeks earlier, Jenny, Lisa and Kim* go to the Cinéma Gaumont Montpellier to see the movie, just released in France, that would win 5 Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and Best Adapted Screenplay:

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Cinéma Gaumont in 1979:

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The film Argo is set in 1979-80, the same year that Jenny and her friends spend studying abroad in the south of France, and the year that moviegoers flock to theatres to see Kramer vs. KramerArgo won this year’s Meilleur Film award and 2 other Oscars: Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.

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I loved both movies, but for different reasons. Because my novel MAKE THAT DEUX takes place during 1979-80, the connections between the two films seem coincidental, and ironic. Kramer vs. Kramer was released in the U.S. in December 1979, not long after the American hostages (including the ones whose story is told in Argo) are seized. Both movies tell gripping stories that kept me on edge until the closing scenes. And though much is different in the world since 1980, some things haven’t changed that much, at least politically.

Back to Les Oscars. It’s changed in many ways, but not all. For example, the gowns: In 1980, Sally Field won Best Actress for her role in Norma Rae, beating Jane Fonda, Bette Midler, Jill Clayburgh and Marsha Mason. A much younger Ms. Field wore a fairly simple dress that night:

SALLY FIELD

Last Sunday night, she was nominated for her role in Lincoln, a part she was perfect for and played very well, à mon avis. But my favorite nominee, Jennifer Lawrence of Silver Linings Playbook, took home the Oscar.

Sally Field at this year’s Academy Awards:

slide_282842_2146056_freeLes robes have changed a lot over the years, and so have the hosts, but some things have stayed the same: The show is très long, and the speeches can be (too) long, too. But usually the show is entertaining and has its funny, unscripted (and weird) moments.

Just like life. C’est la vie!

* Three characters in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX....Kramer contre Kramer was released in February 1980 in France.

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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

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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: 

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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.

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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),

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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?

Traditions: My Charlie Brown Christmas tree, en français

It’s been almost a month since les fêtes de Noël, and as we settle into the new year, the holiday season — and its traditions — are now memories.

One of my holiday traditions — at least, for the last few years — is to keep something Christmas-y out and on display all year ’round. I try to select a small and unobtrusive item, like an interesting new ornament that I judge shouldn’t be hidden in a box for eleven months. So, as I was packing up our Christmas decorations a few weeks ago, I left two sets of holiday cloth cocktail napkins on view in our china cabinet. One set is decorated with red and green Christmas ball ornaments; the other features a tiny elf drinking from a large green flask.

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This Noël, I celebrated the fall publication of my novel MAKE THAT DEUX with its own special Christmas tree, complete with “French” ornaments, some of which I didn’t find ’til the 26th:

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It’s not really a “Charlie Brown” Christmas tree (alas, something unfamiliar to my teenager) — it’s sturdier, prettier, and fake, of course. But it reminds me of one, in a way. Inspired by growing my girls blog post of late January 2012, I decided not to pack it away, but to keep it out and decorated throughout the year.

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Aren’t these lovely? Merci, Nordstrom’s after-Christmas sale!

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I love Christmas and hate to see it go, and I also aime tout ce qui est français…all things French, as you can see in my “auteur bio” on amazon.fr. Like Jenny, the main character in MAKE THAT DEUX, I spent a year in the South of France, in Languedoc, a côté de Provence. Jenny doesn’t see much of Provence, but last summer, I saw a little of it with mon mari between our stays in Nice and Montpellier, and before we traveled north to Lyon and Paris on our own tour de France. Until we return for another one, someday* — or at least, until next Christmas — I’ll display my French Charlie Brown Christmas tree.

Traditions can change over time; some continue year after year, some spring up from a new idea and evolve (“From now on, we’ll…”), and some traditions come to an end, or prennent fin. When I was growing up, I looked forward to our family tradition of watching “A Charlie Brown Christmas” once a year (and it was once a year). One of the Christmas traditions my own family has adopted is watching Christmas movies and television shows together during the holidays. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” isn’t in our DVD library, but I think I will have to cherche (search) for it in about ten months. (I wonder if I can find it en français…)

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Cocktail, anyone?

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* Sometime in the future, we hope to visit our son in Italy, and then jaunt over to Nice and Aix-en-Provence (and stay a little longer this time…)

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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.

Oops.

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…

Then

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…

Now

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

 

 

Avignon and Montpellier encore

Some parts of these two French cities haven’t changed for centuries.

This summer, during our five days in le Midi (the south of France), my husband and I spent an afternoon in Avignon. Arriving after lunch, we spotted and entered a parking garage near la gare with only moderate difficulty (having to back out of an unmarked a wrong entrance, and, with embarrassment, forcing the car behind us to do the same). Heureusement, I was driving.

It was a hot day and, during its July festival, the town was crowded with visitors from France and elsewhere. But perhaps because, as a student, though I’d lived just over ninety kilometers away for almost a year, I’d never ventured over to Avignon, I wanted to see le pont d’Avignon and look around — as a tourist.

We climbed les escaliers to this view of the pont, then saw the Palais des Papes on our way to Place de l’Horloge.

I wanted to visit another famous town in the region, Nîmes, but because we’re Americans (and therefore, had planned to do more than time would allow), we had to skip it and head over to Montpellier, happily* arriving there at cocktail hour.

At my request, our agent de voyage had booked us at a mid-priced more-expensive-than-in-the-U.S. (but still perfect for our budget) Best Western hotel, Le Guilhem, which we loved once we found it.** However, with no hotel bar evident, we set out à pied to find some alcohol a nice restaurant.

As luck would have it, we found one right next to our hotel on Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau called Le Petit Jardin. Malheureusement, c’était complet (full — although it didn’t look that way). Undeterred (but unhappy that our agent hadn’t found and booked it, since we were celebrating our wedding anniversary), we got a table at another restaurant, Volodia, on the same rue, and ordered champagne.

The following day, a Friday, we did some exploring. Some parts of Montpellier were just as I recalled, and some parts of it were quite different. We walked through the campus where I had attended classes and had studied at la bibliothèque. We visited nearby Palavas-les-flots and found my old (and only slightly changed) apartment building. We toured Montpellier some more (mais pas en voiture) and learned a little of its historyIt was a strange but wonderful feeling to be in a place where I had missed mon ami.

Château d’eau du Peyrou

Aqueduc Saint Clément

In my upcoming novel, the protagonist and her girlfriends get around Montpellier and its environs very well. They often meet at a café in the centrally located Place de la Comédie, or at the statue of Les Trois Grâces in front of the Opéra National de Montpellier.

Les Trois Grâces in Place de la Comédie

All of which are still there — though somewhat changed.

* at heure de pointe (rush hour)! As we inched along in a traffic jam from the autoroute, a siren-blasting emergency vehicle passed us and several other vehicles with difficulty, due to a complete lack of room.

**See the post Le Tour de (Montpellier) France

L’esprit de l’escalier, spiral staircases and faux-amis

As I have asked mon prof Marie-Hélène many times, Qu’est-ce que ça veut dire?

The answer: literally, “wit of the staircase” — I’m picturing a spiral one —  or, a repartee thought of only too late, such as (often, for me) on the way home. Unlike my quick-witted husband, who has a talent for the perfect comebacks and quips, I get caught up in over-thinking and am slow unable to respond, normalement. That is, until the moment has passed, l’individu is gone and verbal victory is impossible. The stairs have already been climbed.

Like my fear of heights, my tendency toward l’esprit de l’escalier has never changed. Naturellement, when I came across l’expression quite by accident (par hasard) — in a tweet — it caught my attention, I duly noted it and added it to mon vocabulaire français.  

Which brings me to the French term for spiral staircase: escalier en colimaçon, one of my all-time favorite things. In the Parisian home that my husband and I visited this summer, a beautiful wood spiral staircase, slimmer than the miniature one in the above photo, stood in a corner of the living room, le salon. I’ve always wanted a spiral staircase in my house and lobbied to get it when we added on some rooms a few years ago. Alas, the combination of architecture and budget wouldn’t permit it, so I had to settle for a small, decorative one.

Enfin, another recent addition to my French vocabulary, thanks to Marie-Hélène: faux-amis.

Ça veut dire: French and English words that look similar, but have different meanings. Par contre (on the other hand), vrais-amis are words that look similar and do have the same (or similar) meanings. Évidemment,I just used some of the latter, above. Since many words in the two languages have the same roots, it’s not that suprenant (unusual).

Voici some examples of faux-amis that I have learned in class (or en France) and their meanings in French — pour moi, il faut les apprendre:

Car: bus (coach)

Cave: cellar

Confidence: secret

*Distraction: amusement

Figure: face

Grand: tall

Grave: serious

Habit: clothes

Pain: bread

Sensible: sensitive

In my novel, out soon, the main character climbs many an escalier en colimaçon, including a famous one en Italie and a very old one (of course) in Montpellier, France — even though she’s not fond of crumbling ones and also suffers from acrophobia.

But she does know her faux-amis, and her (very witty) amis, aussi.

*This week’s faux-ami 

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