Like Hadley

thepariswifeWhen I was a schoolgirl in France I imagined how my life would be. It involved extraordinaire people living extraordinaire lives. I was one of them, of course. It had a lot to do with the extreme amount of poetry and literature I was reading back then.

I wanted a life spent at a Parisian café terrace, reading poetry while drinking cocktails at Les Deux Magots, talking of literature while listening to journalists critiquing the latest must-read book, and writing very early morning when the light on Paris allows the craziest promises and very late at night when the light on Paris allows the wildest dreams.

The kind of life you read in The Paris Wife from Paula McLain, a novel as striking as the people who inhabit the story. Striking with unusual talent and unforgiving flaws.

Very much like life where grace and mess constantly brush against each other. This mix can only trigger hope and despair, beauty and hideousness, love and hate. Tumult.

I haven’t lived the kind of life I described above, even though I read lots of French poetry and spent lots of time inside and outside Parisian cafés and wrote, early and late in the day. On the other side I never drank cocktails and preferred less well-known cafés to Les Deux Magots.

Now, far from Paris, my dreams of living from nothing but d’amour et d’eau fraiche – literally with only love and fresh water – are somehow tamed.

And yet…

Some of my days resemble to the most promising plot. Some are as breathtaking as a poem. Some events keep me on the edge like the most emotionally well-developed story. Some people I know are as extraordinaire and as messy as characters from The Paris Wife.

In truth: more days are more blah than bling.

And yet…

Like Hadley had to find her own ways to cope with bigger than life Hemingway, I find importance in small things and live from their significance.

Cheering for my son and daughters when they get an A on a math or English test. Finding the comfort words for the same son or daughters when someone breaks their hearts. Crying with a friend who’s lost a loved one. Kissing a good luck kiss to a husband who worries for an important professional meeting. Applauding a friend’s success. Laughing with all the people above around a good meal.

And always my own little silver lining: the little flame inside me that dances with joy when I wake up at the prospect of writing again.

P.S. If you haven’t read The Paris Wife, go for it. It will make you love and hate Hemingway, love and hate the 1920s, love and hate even Paris.

Mini Winter Wonderland

Twenty years ago, when I left Paris for California, my colleagues made fun of me.

“You’ll end up bored after so much pool and beach,” they said.

It is true that for most French people California is sun, sun, sun.

But California is also the third largest American state and its geographic and climatic diversity is quite extraordinary.

On Sunday, I made my usual walk with my hiking buddy and we did our six miles in shorts and tank tops. The sun was a warm caress on the skin, and daffodils were halfway out. Bees buzzed in the blooming rosemary bushes. Grass had turned green everywhere, and only small patches of snow topped the highest Sierra summits.

But this afternoon, as I was driving home after picking up my son at school, it started raining. As we reached 2 000 feet in altitude, temperature dropped to 32F and rain switched to snow. In a few minutes the yard around our home was transformed in a mini winter wonderland. The daffodils tucked their small, cold heads in image(2)image(3)and the rosemary turned into a Christmas tree.

Tomorrow the weather forecast announces sun on the Eastern Sierra, so I am savoring one of the last winter moments of the season, and if you are free tonight, I invite you to share the beauty with me.

Une Tranche d’Hiver Californien

Le nom Californie évoque rarement celui de la neige. Quand j’ai quitté Paris il y a plus de 20 ans, mes collègues de bureau se sont un peu moqués de moi en me disant que je finirais par m’ennuyer à la piscine et à la plage. C’est vrai que pour les français la Californie c’est San Francisco et Los Angeles.

Mais la Californie c’est aussi le troisième état le plus grand des 50 états américains – le premier en population – et la variété géographique et climatique y est extraordinaire.

Dimanche, j’ai fait ma ballade hebdomadaire de dix kilomètres sous un soleil quasi estival – shorts et tank top. Les jonquilles étaient presque toutes sorties et la bruyère était en fleur.

Mais cet après midi, quelques gouttes de pluie se sont soudain transformées en neige. Ma maison est perchée juste en dessous de 1 000 mètres et la température quand je suis rentrée vers 5 heures, est descendue à 32 F soit 0 Celsius. Pas vraiment froid pour la Normande/Parisienne/ New Englander que je suis, mais suffisamment pour que la neige décore maintenant mon jardin hier encore si printanier. Les jonquilles ont rentré leurs petites têtes frileuses et la bruyère ressemble davantage à un sapin de Noël.

Demain, la météo annonce soleil sur les collines autour de Yosemite, alors ce soir je me régale d’un des derniers moments hivernaux de la saison et je vous invite à les partager.

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Talking About Writing? Absolutely.

Most writers I know prefer writing to promoting their work.

Before I jumped both feet in the business of publishing Trapped in Paris, my first novel for young readers, I laughed at the thought of promoting it.

I thought of promotion as the easy part of the job.  I would do it in a jiff – after all I had grown a thick skin between writing the story, revising it, copyediting it, and working through the whole process of publishing.

Really, talking about my story to young readers would be absolutely easy.

Guess what?

I had a first signing in a lovely children’s bookstore in November and I was nervous when I met my first buyer: a twelve-year-old girl.

At the second our eyes met I realized how important the moment was. This girl had decided to purchase my book rather than another book. Responsible is how I felt.

I was so concerned that I paused and worked on two different writing projects instead of focusing on promoting Trapped in Paris.

In the end, you know how what you try to avoid always catches up with you? Well, it did, and I am now facing three events, all linked to the publication of Trapped in Paris.

Two I didn’t choose:

A local school invited me on Dr. Seuss’s Day, also Read Across America celebrated on March 2.  A middle school student called me one morning.

“We would like to know if you are free that day,” she said. “Because we would very much like to have a local author to help the school celebrates.”

“Of course,” I said in a cheerful voice.

“It would be for the entire student body,” she said.

“Of course,” I said.

It was over the phone, so the girl had no idea that my heart was now pulsing so hard that I had to sit down.

All the time as I kept saying that yes, it would be wonderful and that yes I could talk about writing and that yes I was thrilled, I was mentally elaborating complicated plans to entertain an entire study body. How do you keep kids from kindergarten to eight grades alert, interested and engaged?

When I hung up, I was caught in an uncomfortable mix of excitement and anxiety.

But that wasn’t the end.

The same day one of the school’s language art teacher called me. She thought it would be absolutely great if I came into her class and spoke about writing in a second language.

That, I thought with a sigh, is something I know very well. I can definitely talk to a kid whose first language isn’t English.

“And of course,” the teacher added, “you will read a few pages of your book to the seventh and eight graders. A small assembly, really.”

“Of course,” I said in the same cheerful voice I used with the student.

I can’t blame anyone for the third event. I asked for it when I offered a copy of my book to a children’s librarian. She and I have known each other for a while. When my children were little, the children’s library was their second home. This librarian is young and engaging. She loves books and people who write books.

She was so supportive of my work that she immediately suggested a library event. How cool is that?

I’m very grateful and very fortunate that a student, a teacher and a librarian invited me to introduce my book and talk of the writing process.

Yet I dream of hiding in my small den, which overlooks a yard where daffodils are poking their shy noses, where quails and squirrels search for seeds, and where the Californian light is a perfect excuse for typing yet another story.

But the voices of the teacher, of the librarian, and moreover of the student, echo in my head.

“Please, would you be available to come over and talk with us about writing?”

Absolutely.

 

 

 

 

 

To List or Not to List

Lots of people need to-do lists.  I do.

Laundry. Check.

Groceries. Check.

Vacuuming. Check.

Fueling the car. Check.

Bank account. Check.

Email. Check.

There is something relieving with to-do lists.

Check. Done.

Most are a little down-to-earth, right?

Even writers’ to-do lists are tedious.

Make sure my main character is a good balance of flaws and strengths.

Check on my secondary characters so they don’t overcome my protagonist.

Brainstorm tertiary characters to provide more suspense or excitement through the story.

Use lots of sensory details, including all five senses, to stimulate emotions.

Write dialogues that echo the characters’ personalities and show actions instead of telling too much through the narrative.

Choose a distinct setting that fits the plot and intrigues the reader.

And for all means, keep the voice steady throughout the story.  This one is so hard I write it at the end of the list while it bugs me much more than the other components of the list.

A writer’s to-do list is by far the longest and the most demanding of all lists.

The worse part is that it is a list that never exactly provides the relief of a plain old list.

Remains the writer’s worry: did I really need a list?

But something l read last night reassured me.

One of the members of my critique group is writing a biography.

I’m a die-hard fiction reader and writer. I know, I know, I should read every genre. I love poetry too – although I don’t write any in English.

So to enlighten my shabby knowledge of nonfiction children’s literature, I read Charles and Emma The Darwins’ Leap of Faith from Deborah Heiligman.

This book got so much praise and awards that the author must have written a list to remember them all.

And guess what I found?

Charles Darwin wrote lists too!

He even made a list of pros and cons when he considered marriage.

To Marry or Not to Marry.

Very Shakespearian approach. Darwin didn’t even have someone special in mind when he wrote his list.

He began with lots of cons under Not to Marry. He ended up with fewer pros under To Marry.

And yet he married Emma Wedgewood.

It is said that, “In her presence he found his happiness, and through her, his life.”

So when to do listdarwinsomeone makes fun of your writer’s list – long or short – just smile and remember Darwin.

Or say, “Some lists are worth every single word.”

Quand on n’a que l’Amour

Quand je suis allée voir mes parents cet été en Normandie, mon père a insisté pour je ramène chez moi les derniers disques que j’avais laissé quand j’ai quitté la France pour les Etats Unis.

Un peu pénible, Papa, de glisser dans sa valise des disques gigantesques quand on peut charger des milliers de chansons sur un minuscule iPod. Mais bon, j’ai ramené mes disques.

Je vous épargnerai les Leny Escudero, Daniel Guichard – oh, Mon Vieux est une si belle chanson ! – Renaud et Téléphone, mais dans la dizaine de 33 tours, il y avait un Jacques Brel dont je n’avais aucun souvenir.

Une copine de classe, maintenant je m’en souviens, l’aimait autant que j’aimais Bruce Springsteen.

Moi qui ne fête pas vraiment la Saint Valentin, j’ai craqué pour Quand on n’a que l’amour. Il ya apparemment d’autres fans car les videos sur YouTube abondent. jacquesbrel

Une chanson belle à pleurer et à remplir le cœur d’espoir pour un monde meilleur.

Parfait pour honorer à la fois les amours dans nos vies et One Billion Rising.

“Je t’avais bien dit », me murmure ma copine de lycée, « il est génial Jacques Brel.”

Intemporel, j’ajouterais aujourd’hui.

One Billion Rising on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is, among all American celebrations, one of the weirdest for a French native.

Almost snubbed by the French for the longest time, it is true that now, in a globalized economy, the French also buy chocolates, perfumes and small gifts to the special person in their life.

I never celebrated and must have already written it before, but my husband told me upfront when we met that he wouldn’t celebrate love on a certain day, adding that it was anyway Valentine’s Day every day with me.

These French men!!!

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day again and this year my mind is set on a more serious issue.

I’m not a huge fan of many causes. But once in a while one catches my eye. Often it is linked to a literary event. You know, like NanoWrimo, Dr. Seuss’s Day, Read Across America, World Book Night…

There is even International Book Giving Dayonebillion on Valentine’s Day.

But this is not what I will celebrate tomorrow.

I will join One Billion Rising.

7 billion people live on our planet.

Half are women.

1/3 of them are raped or beaten.

In the true spirit of what love should be, let’s pause together on February 14.

La Saint Valentin à l’Américaine

Le 14 février, le monde semble partagé en deux : ceux qui fêtent et ceux qui ne fêtent pas.

La Saint Valentin, je veux dire.

En fait, même en France, je n’ai jamais été fan de cette journée d’amour imposé.

Mon mari est pire que moi.

Alors ce jour là, non, on ne se fait pas de petits cadeaux et de diners en amoureux.

Quand on s’est rencontrés à Paris – la capitale mondiale de l’amour, disent les américains – celui qui allait devenir mon mari m’a tout de suite mise au parfum.

« La Saint Valentin c’est nul. Pour moi ce sera la Saint Valentin tous les jours passés avec toi. »

Evidemment seul un français y aurait pensé.

Mais quand on élève ses enfants aux U.S., on ne peut pas couper à un certain style de Saint Valentin.

Mes enfants, quant à eux, ont adopté la tradition avec une certaine ferveur. Ils ont une excuse : la Saint Valentin ou Valentine’s Day se célèbre tôt aux U.S.A.

Dès l’école maternelle, les maitres ou les maitresses envoient à la maison une lettre donnant la liste de tous les camarades de classe de façon à ce que chaque enfant prépare une carte pour chacun. L’échange est parfait puisque votre petit(e) part avec 20 cartes le matin et reviendra avec 20 le soir.

Cela évite les crises de jalousie et surtout renforce l’idée que tout le monde est un ami.

Parce que la grande différence entre les français qui fêtent la Saint Valentin en France et les Américains, c’est cela.

La fête de l’amour versus la fête de l’amitié.

Lorsque je vivais à Paris, la Saint Valentin était finalement assez peu fêtée. Il semble que commercialement au moins, la France ait emboité le pas à l’Amérique et que cadeaux et diners soient devenus un must aussi de l’autre coté de l’océan. Dixit ma sœur et cousines.

Je dois reconnaitre que les petites cartes faites par les enfants aux U.S. sont mignonnes même si un petit peu trop sweet sur les bords.

En parlant de sucreries, il y a les bonbons de Valentine’s Day, of course. Un petit bonbon en cœur ajouté à la carte pour celui ou celle que l’on aime un peu plus qu’un autre ou qu’une autre.

Etre ami avec tout le monde c’est une utopie, même en maternelle.

Alors le petit bonbon ou la boite de bonbons carrément, dans le cas d’un grand amour, remet tout cela en place.

Donc c’est par mes enfants – comme pour tant d’autres choses quand on vit à l’étranger – que la coutume de la Saint Valentin est réapparue dans ma vie. Au moins dans sa version enfantine.

Je verrai demain si mon mari est toujours resté bien français.

valentineEn attendant: Bonne fête à tous et à toutes !

Like a Jelly Jar

Mardi Gras. Fat Tuesday.  In the U.S. that day evocates New Orleans and the Carnival.

When I was a kid growing up in France, Mardi Gras had a very down-to-earth meaning.

That day eggs, milk, butter, and flour were transformed – thanks to my mother’s culinary skills – into golden crepes and crispy beignets.

My mother was especially talented at making apple beignets. On Mardi Gras, a few of my father’s friends always pretended having to stop by, only to enjoy dessert with us. While they savored the beignets, as well-behaved adults do, I stuffed my face.

Ash Wednesday would arrive soon enough.

And it marked the beginning of Lent, the leanest part of the Catholic calendar.

During the 40 days of Lent, my mother stopped baking – she also always managed to get rid of any store bought cookie just in case I would have been preparing a survival kit. That was harsh.

Want to know the harshest? My sister and I had to put in an empty jelly jar the amount of money we would have spent buying our after school croissants, pains au chocolat and other sweet stuff. Forty days worth of perfectly good French pastries!

The earned money would be then added to a local fundraising for the poor at the end of Lens.

My sister – for a mysterious masochist reason – enjoyed filling the money jar.

I hated every day of it.

But when Lent was over – 40 days later! – there stood the jelly jar filled with French francs and centimes. “You suffered to get there”, my mother said, “but there is a cost to everything. Now let’s give this money away.”

This sacrifice slash effort slash outcome was intimately linked to the way I grew up in the 70s.

Now, I’m thinking, remembering these lean days of Lent, you’re living more like it’s Fat Tuesday everyday. 

And then I think, don’t be so harsh on yourself.

When it comes to writing, I have indeed never really forgotten the jelly jar.

I write painfully slash laboriously – I wish there was a predictable outcome.

And yet day after day, like the jelly jar got fuller, my Word Count fattens up.

Almost religiously.masonjar

A Casual Lapse

I have an embarrassing confession to make: I never read Harry Potter.

I know, I know, it’s bad for someone who loves children’s literature and writes.

My children were little when Harry hit the world with magical tsunami-like might.

Only my oldest daughter, an avid and excellent reader at a young age, read the first book. Her father bought it for her,casualvacancy and she read it in a few days. Her father waited then, with the anticipation of a true fan, for the sequels, which he bought for our daughter, who in turn read each with equal passion.

Later, my younger children also fell in love and hate with Harry, his friends and their foes.

There was something about the Harry Potter books that stopped me in the first place.

Another confession – less embarrassing than the first one because I know lots of people share my habit – I love to read in bed so I prefer books under 400 pages. You know how heavy books tend to land on your head when you drift asleep?

Despite its 500 pages and the fact that it is a hardcover, I read the latest J.K. Rowling. And I understood why everyone who read Harry Potter absolutely adored Harry Potter.

A Casual Vacancy has nothing to do with Harry Potter – at least from what I was told. It has a distinctive yet mundane plot, a set of extraordinary yet ordinary characters, and a familiar yet exotic setting. But I bet J.K. Rowling applied in both an exceptional talent for rich, detailed descriptions, for ringing-true dialogues, for deadpan humor.

She said her next book would be for children again. Selfishly? I hope not.

Meanwhile, I will dig through my kids’ shelves and find Harry Potter.

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