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.

Par avion, with a kiss

“So kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me copy 4
I’m leavin’ on a jet plane
I don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh, babe, I hate to go.”
– John Denver

Every couple has certain songs they know by heart.*

Like Jenny, the protagonist in my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, I didn’t mind almost enjoyed flying when I was younger…unless I was leaving behind someone I loved.

What once was an event – for which you dressed up – has changed. It’s now just a method of transportation that’s full of hassles and short of comfort, with bags, meals, and even legroom charged à la carte.

But some changes have been positive. No more smoking (if you don’t remember that, watch Mad Men). Better security, if sometimes aggravating. Presumably, better made airplanes. Cheaper flights? I suppose so, in “real dollars.”

The estimated cost of my round trip ticket from New York to Paris in 1979 and 1980 (with UNC’s Study Abroad group) was $385. Sounds affordable, but according to a Consumer Price Index calculator, that’s equal to $1233 today. I recently booked a round trip ticket from Rome to Atlanta for a family member for $1268.

[I know it was $385 because I saved the Estimated Costs information for my Year-in-Montpellier Program (based on 15 students in the group). Academic fees were estimated at $1,646 for the year. Lodging was $450, and ten months of meals totaled $820.]

In MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny travels en avion, en train, en voiture (by car) and en mobylette (moped). She doesn’t hate to go to France, but she does hate to leave someone behind. She does it though, with a kiss…

In my upcoming novel, to be released later this summer, the main character (“C”) travels here and there by plane with the man she loves. She’s older than Jenny, and, like me, she’s not fond of flying. But she gets to travel the way I wish I could: first class, and sometimes by private jet – with a kiss kisses.

I won’t say where she and her boyfriend (“R”) go, or what happens while they travel together. But in an instant, everything changes…

*What are some of “your” songs? Here’s a few more of ours: “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina; “Chuck E.’s in Love” by Rickie Lee Jones; “Lean on Me” by Bill Withers; and “Rescue Me” by Linda Rondstadt

May in France, and fluency

“Le joli mois de mai, où on ne travaille pas beaucoup!” – mon prof de français

In my novel MAKE THAT DEUX, Jenny’s goal is to become fluent in French. She prepares for her final exams – often the only grade given in a course – by working hard in May, not noticing much about what happens in France that month. When she takes a (final) oral exam, she….

Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

During the month of May in France, due to several holidays in quick succession, almost every week-end is a long weekend (on fait le pont). Mais ici, we only have one of those (Memorial Day Weekend), and it happens after all of the French ones.

Yesterday May 1st was la fête du muguet, porte-bonheur et la fête du Travail (Labor Day). Next Wednesday the 8th is la fête historique armistice (WW II Victory in Europe Day). Thursday May 9 is a religious holiday (fête religieuse catholique), l’Ascension, though tout le monde celebrates it, même si they aren’t religious. Ditto for Monday May 20, which is Pentecôte (Pentecost).

Le muguet (lily-of-the-valley) is la fleur du bonheur: in France, you give loved ones a little bouquet of it for good luck (porte-bonheur) and to celebrate the arrival of le printemps (spring). I suspect that today through Sunday, on fait le pont (everybody takes a long weekend), or maybe just tomorrow through Sunday.


Le muguet


Next week, with the 8th and 9th falling on Wednesday and Thursday, I’m not sure what on fait/one does. Perhaps one takes a very long weekend, working only next Monday and Tuesday, in a kind of work-reversal week (2 days on, 5 days off). Sounds very French, I dare say.

The following weekend, one celebrates Pentecôte by taking a third long weekend.

Three long weekends in a row! Quelle bonne idée! On the other hand, could that be exhausting? Peut-être, Monsieur!

First, there’s only so much relaxing one can do; staying busy (working) may be less tiresome. Second, if one travels during a long weekend, it could cost more than staying at home. Even if one visits family (for free), one’s routine is interrupted. Third – well, my husband and I have a saying taken from a WSJ article dated some time ago: “Work is Home, and Home is Work.”

Yes, that’s right: we often feel “at home” when we’re at work (and since I actually work at home, it gets complicated; happily, I have a home office). But when we are at home, we may feel like we are working. Working on our house, our chores, our projects, our parenting (though we’re almost out of that business), our marriage…and beaucoup de choses! 

That doesn’t mean that being at home (and not at work) is hard – but it can be, whether that’s evident admissable to others or not. Which brings me to fluency: the ability to speak a language smoothly and with apparent ease.

Some people have a gift for languages; others claim to be truly fluent when they aren’t (quite). I speak French, though not as well (yet) as I speak English. Fluency in another language can be hard to achieve, unless you learn as a small child. But if you work at it – practice it until you feel at home, no matter how difficult or confusing it may be – at some point it doesn’t feel like work anymore; on ne travaille pas beaucoup!

At least, that’s ce qu’on me dit! (what I’m told!)


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?


Allons à la plage (let’s go to the beach), Paperback Writer

“Dear Sir or Madam, will you read my book*?
It took me years to write, will you take a look?”
– The Beatles, “Paperback Writer”

For some most authors, writing a novel takes years. One day, you sit down at a blank computer screen and begin. And one day – sometime later on – your book is published. I began writing my book, MAKE THAT DEUX, several years ago. Now it’s available as a paperback…and an e-book. (Click on my HOME page above, or on BOOK, for buy links.)

The main character, Jenny Miles, lives in an apartment right on the beach, during her year as a student in the south of France.

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La plage in France last summer, in front of the apartment building where I lived as a student in 1979-80

Next week, I’m heading to an American beach for Spring Break. I’m looking forward to the sunshine and gentle ocean breezes; a few clouds or showers won’t bother me, as long as they don’t stick around. But no matter what the weather, I’m ready for sand and  salty air while reading writing my next paperback (or e-book).

A vrai dire (to tell the truth), I’ll be doing both, in between long walks on the beach.

I hope to finish the draft of my work-in-progress (a Suspense novel) in the next few weeks. Then it’s time to revise, ask for feedback, revise, edit, and – one day – publish. After that, I’ll begin to write another story I’ve outlined (and that I can’t wait to start), then finish the (unnamed) sequel to MAKE THAT DEUX. 

Because “I want to be a Paperback Writer.”

Joyeuses Pâques! (Happy Easter!)

* “It was… short.”
“I loved it.”
– Jacob and Robert Marley in A Muppet Christmas Carol.

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…

Joyeux Noël, Elno

The cartes de Noël have been sent (and many received), the tree has been trimmed, the decorations — and lights — carefully placed, and the stockings hung…

but I’m not quite ready for Christmas.

It’s my favorite holiday, with Thanksgiving a close second. I love l’automne (the fall) best of all the seasons, and here in Atlanta, l’hiver (winter) feels like autumn (and sometimes almost like summer). Earlier this month, when my daughter and I visited New York City for a special birthday weekend trip, le temps was very, very cold and windy…

But we still walked down 5th and 6th Avenues, Madison Avenue, Broadway, Canal Street, through Central Park and the World Trade Center Memorial (but not in that order). Other than a few taxi rides, we saw Manhattan à pied (on foot), during the day and at night, with its spectacular illuminations de Noël:


On 5th Avenue


There were plenty of other touristes in New York, and we did a lot there in less than 72 hours — more than I dare to write about in this space. Because what happened in Manhattan…well, you know.

But both of us were ready to come back home that Sunday, where more most people are very polite and friendly, and speak a little more slowly. And we were happy to toss our heavy warm  not-warm-enough-for-the-north coats back in the closet.

But it was worth every freezing moment.


Back home, we’ve done a lot in the last three weeks, though I made a serious effort (again) not to go overboard with decorations. I think I succeeded without being too Grinchy: I forced myself to leave left a couple of boxes of holiday “stuff” that had seen better years in the storage room; I (almost always) resisted the urge to buy new “stuff”; and, because I hurt my back somehow (it’s just finally feeling better now, phew), I took things a little slower. And if they didn’t get done, oh well.

Because those things aren’t what Christmas is about, anyway.

When we were first married, my husband and I couldn’t afford to buy Christmas decorations, but we had a few that that my parents had given us because they didn’t want them anymore. One such item was two matching tacky adorable elves holding signs that said “NO” and “EL.”

My husband, always the joker, used to reverse their order on the shelf, so that “EL” was before “NO.” All it was missing was an apostrophe before the “E” and maybe one more “L,” and it would have been, well, a little bit French.*

After five moves, four kids and three decades, we don’t know what happened to “EL” and “NO” — they got lost, sadly. So this year, while shopping one day I spotted a replacement (sort of), and decided we had to have it (plus, it wasn’t expensive):

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Finally, here’s a photo of one the ornaments hanging on our Christmas tree. It’s very old (also inexpensive), kid-hand-made, and was recently repaired by a dear friend who doesn’t judge me for my phobia of super-glue:


Are you ready for Christmas? I’ve still got a few gifts to buy and a party to host, but other than that, I’m close, and I’ll keep the following lines from Dr. Suess (and from my favorite card received so far this year) in mind, as the 25th approaches:

It came without ribbons. It came without tags. 

It came without packages, boxes or bags. 

And he puzzled and puzzled ’till his puzzler was sore.

Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before.

What if Christmas, he thought, doesn’t come from a store?

What if Christmas, perhaps, means a little bit more?

Merry Christmas!

*Or Spanish. In my new novel MAKE THAT DEUX, there’s a character called “El.” Read and find out who!

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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.

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,



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