Where I’ve worked on my books, and when…

Where I was (and what the season was), when I began writing each of my books:

  • Book 4 (title to be revealed soon): My home office, in the winter ❄️
  • Book 3 (ALL THE ABOVE): My room at the One Ocean Resort & Spa in Atlantic Beach, Florida during spring break👙
  • Book 2 (UNDERWATER): The Library Coffee Company in Atlanta (now closed), in the summer ☕️
  • Book 1 (MAKE THAT DEUX): My kitchen, in the fall 🍁


Where I was, when I found my editor: My writers group meeting in Atlanta, in the spring 🌷

Where I was, when I found my cover artist: The Resort at Longboat Key Club near Sarasota, Florida, in the spring 🌴

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Where I went to do research:

  • Book 4: McKinney, Texas 🌵
  • Book 3: Winston-Salem, North Carolina 🌳
  • Book 2: New York City, and Nice, France 🚖
  • Book 1: Montpellier, France 🇫🇷

Where I was (and the season), when I finished the edits for each:

  • Book 4: My home office, in the summer 🍉
  • Book 3: My home office, in the winter ⛄️
  • Book 2: Winter Park, Colorado, during a big family reunion vacation week and golf tournament, in the summer ⛳️
  • Book 1: My kitchen, in the fall 🏈

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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! )”


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…)


The Negresco: a very nice hotel in Nice — for deux

It was the first hotel where my husband and I stayed in France, and it was the nicest.*

Image 77Our plane had arrived that morning from Lisbon. We took a taxi to the Hotel Negresco, a bit of a splurge but well worth it, we agreed. That evening, after strolling along the Promenade des Anglais and through the vieille ville, then visiting not one, but two smallish museums (Matisse and Chagall), we landed at the hotel bar, Le Relais.

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I didn’t know the history of the hotel, nor that 2012 was its 100th anniversaire until the other day when I read about it in an entry in The Provence Post titled  What Happens at Negresco…

Oh-la-la. Il faut que vous le lisiez! (You HAVE to read it!)

Unaware that it had been recently redone (but still appreciative of it), we had dinner that first evening at La Rotonde. We sat outside on the terrace, looking out on the Mediterranean Sea, both of us (well, mostly me) trying out our French as we sipped our wine. The following evening — our last one in Nice — we would have loved to dine at the Chantecler, the hotel’s two-star restaurant. But we hadn’t booked a reservation ahead of time. So we found a table at another nice restaurant just steps away.

Le temps (the weather) — though a bit warm during the day — was perfect at night. Walking back to our hotel, I took this photo:

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Before we left the next day to head west along the Riveria in our rented voiture (whose GPS ne marchait pas — even the extremely helpful valets at the Negresco couldn’t get it to work), I took this photo of the view from our room, just over La Rotonde (located at the far left side of the hotel in the first photo above):

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Staying at the Negresco, even for just two nights, was a very cool experience, and I want to go back someday avec mon mari. I had never seen the hotel when, during my year in France, I stopped for an afternoon in Nice on the way home from Italy. I won’t say what year it was, just that it was long after Richard Burton left Liz’s jewels at the bar by mistake, but way before Michael Jackson installed a dance floor in one of the rooms and rehearsed there…

Somehow, I think my husband and I sensed the history and eccentric personality of the Negresco during our forty-eight hours as guests there in July, and were awed by it. He’s more into history than me (he was reading Alistair Horne’s LA BELLE FRANCE during our vacances), and though he has his idiosyncrasies, I’m a bit more eccentric. You might even say I’m quirky, as a friend did** last month at a launch party for my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX. 

*But the two other hotels where we stayed in France were lovely, too: the Hotel St. Christophe in Aix-en-Provence and the Best Western Hotel Le Guilhem in Montpellier.

**In a very NICE way.

The French Riviera: La Côte d’Azur

Doesn’t it just sound cooler in French?

My husband and I began our recent vacation in France here, in Nice. I’d never visited this beautiful spot, though I lived on a Mediterranean beach a few hours to the west many years ago, in Languedoc, à côté de the more famous Provence. Shortly after we arrived in Nice, we strolled down the palm tree lined Promenade des Anglais and climbed the Colline du Château (Castle Hill), where I took the above photo. Afterward, we wandered through Vieux Nice, the old part of the city (recognizable by the sienna-tiled roofs) on our way back to our hotel, across from the pebbled beach about a mile further down.

Like all of France, Nice is full of history. Much has changed here over the centuries, and even within the last thirty years. But its beauty is timeless and enduring.

The following day, after picking up our rental car* at la gare (the train station, where a taxi dropped us), we made our way east out of the city and over the side of a mountain toward Monaco. On the way, we stopped for a marvelous four course lunch at Chateau Eza (we both selected the Menu Prince) in Eze-le-Village, a gorgeous place I’d never known about until recently. Our table was on a private terrace jutting out from the Chateau, high over the sea, rocks and beaches below. Déjeuner began with an aperitif: champagne, of course. We shared a bottle of wine as we savored each of the small delicious dishes and practiced our French.

The view was breathtaking. Like “Elle” (what we’ll call the main character in my upcoming novel, for now), I have a fear of heights. I don’t know how I managed to enjoy such a leisurely lunch on a balcony perched high above land and water. Maybe it was the vin.

“Elle” doesn’t deal as well with her acrophobia (though, I dare say, if she had thought of handling it with wine, it may not have been an issue). Perhaps she doesn’t think of doing that because usually, when she has to face her fear, no alcohol is available, except for that time in Amsterdam — but I’m jumping ahead.

Back to Nice, Eze and the Côte d’Azur: another very romantic spot in the world, one I would love to visit again, and spend more time in, someday.

* For more about our adventures en voiture, see prior post, Le Tour de (Montpellier) France.

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.

When it’s out there, reader – le jugement

Now that I’m back from les vacances en France, it’s time to travailler – work – again. As the French say, Faire et refaire, c’est toujours travailler. 

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.

A bientôt.

[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.]

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