Goodbye to NaNoWriMo and Hello To Perfect Holiday Gifts

 

November is over. NaNoWriMo too.

And I have the first draft of a new novel. Not 50 000 words but that was predictable. 30 000 is enough, though, to know that another story is on its way. A good feeling as November has tilted into December, which means the holiday season has started.

When my husband and I prepared our first Christmas together we realized that we didn’t exactly shared the same traditions. So we mixed and matched and made concessions too.

Mine was to agree to open one gift on Christmas Eve, something I had never done until then.

His to agree to wait until Christmas morning, something he had never done before.

And we both agreed to hang stockings on the mantel, an American addition to our French shoes left at the foot of the Christmas tree.

Later, with impatient children, we decided to empty our stockings on Christmas Eve. A stocking is often too small for a book, however books are so easy to wrap that I came up with a personal shortlist of writers and their latest book. I know each of these authors, whether in person or through our mutual writing or blogs. They are indie and traditionally authors who work hard at their craft.

This season, as you are looking for a meaningful and not crazily expensive gift, give them a chance.

 

FROM THE WEST COAST

NICKI CHEN

My blogger friend lives in the gorgeous Seattle area and wrote the terrific novel Tiger Tail Soup: A Novel of China at War in which she blends historical facts to fiction. Since Nicki was married to a Chinese man, authenticity and respect fill each page of this gorgeously written book that will appeal to history buffs, fiction lovers and travelers alike. Nicki is currently at work on another novel.

 

KATIE CROSS

This is from Colorado that Katie’s mind churns chick-lit stories for women of all ages. Her latest Heath and Happiness Society Series takes the reader along the life-changing journey of five women friends who have different obstacles to overcome. Well-paced, filled with heart and humor women will love each of the five books and their realistic likeable characters. I’m not a huge fan of sequels that require to have read the previous books to understand the plot, so I find this series attractive since each book stands alone. To find more about each title and the entire Series, visit Katie’s website.

JOAN SCHOETTLER

From California comes a lyrically written and gorgeously illustrated Picture Book about Japanese American sculptor Ruth Asawa, interned as a child in a California camp during WWII. Writing is from Joan Schoettler and illustrations from Traci Van Wagoner. Ideal for the artsy kid in your life but also for your family or school bookshelf Ruth Asawa: A Sculpting Life is not only a biography about the sculptor behind the Ghirardelli Square cast bronze fountain – among many other commissioned works through Northern California – but also a story about choosing the beauty of art agaisnt the ugliness of war.

 

ANGELICA CARPENTER

A librarian by trade Angelica is known for her impeccable research. From the moment she shared her title idea, some years ago over one of our critique meetings, I knew someone would publish Born Criminal. Although feminist suffragist Matilda Joslyn Gage fought for equal rights not dependent on sex, race, or class she has never been celebrated as much as Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton who worked for the same cause. In her book, Angelica explores Matilda’s life and the unfair reasons why her name has faded in history. For YA and adults alike.

 

JENNIFER CHOW

SoCal-based author Jennifer and I are still to meet, even though our paths have almost crossed several times. Her indie published YA novel Dragonfly Dreams made it to Teen Vogue, next to Crazy Rich Asians. Set in 1810 in Fresno, a city she and I know well, her novel blends historical facts and immigration experience to paranormal elements. Check out Jennifer’s other books, including her cozy mystery novels for adults.

 

FROM THE EAST COAST

 

MICHAEL F. FEDISON

From the unique state of Vermont comes a writer with a knack for scifi, also an excellent inspirational blogger for indie writers. Michael S. Fedison’s recently released science fiction novel The Singularity Wheel is as engrossing as its companion The Eye Dancers in which seventh-grader Mitchell Grant and his three best friends found themselves in a 1950s world and had to rely on a mysterious little girl with blue, hypnotic eyes to return to the real world. The girl had visited them previously through recurrent dreams and needs them as much as they need her. I admire scifi writers for creating worlds from scratch and coming up with vivid settings and imaginative plots. Michael doesn’t disappoint.

 

ALEXANDRIA LAFAYE

Years ago, I had the privilege to meet and write with Alexandria over a series of workshops. Based in Illinois, the author, educator, speaker is one of the best voices in children’s literature, particularly in historical fiction. She’s also a smart witty warm woman. Her latest Picture Book Follow Me Down to Nicodemus Town is fictional but based on the history of the African American pioneer settlement. Former slaves leaving the Jim Crow South founded Nicodemus, Kansas in the late 1870s. Now the town is part of the National Historical Landmarks. The album is lovingly illustrated, always a plus for younger readers. More about Alexandria here.

 

Attending festivals or doing school visits is a great way to meet other writers. I first met the three following Florida-based authors at a festival which we now attend every year.

CHRISTINA BENJAMIN

Christina’s prolific writing is an inspiration. Her teenage female readers love her popular The Boyfriend Series. A plus: each novel is a stand-alone. More about Christina? Click here.

STACEY HORAN

According to Stacey she writes about things that scares her in order to make them less scary. Four books later she still find enough scary things to keep writing. From her website, more info about Stacey and her books.

NANCY JANE QUACKENBUSH

Fantasy is at the heart of Nancy Jane’s writing and illustration. Her motto summons her goal: Let Your Dreams take Off! All about Nancy and her books.

 

 

And of course, adding one of Evelyne’s books remains always a good option:

 

All the Mountains We Can Climb

One hot summer month in Yosemite National Park is seventeen-year-old Noelle’s ticket to another chance after the tragic death of her father and younger sister.

Chronicles From Château Moines

Set in Normandy in the early 1970s, this middle grade historical novel braids together American and French cultures via the alternating narratives of 12-year-old classmates Scott and Sylvie.

Trapped in Paris

A fast-paced young adult thriller set in the Parisian suburbs.

Now you can fully relax and enjoy the beauty of the season.

No need to panic if you hadn’t yet found the perfect gift for your teenage daughter, your favorite cousin or colleague or still your grandfather or mother.

Just pick a book from the list above.

You will make two persons happy.

Happy Peaceful Holiday Season to Each of You, my friends!

French Friday: A Novel Draft in a Month Week 2

As the state of California is currently fighting against beastlike fires, I pause.

When I started All the Mountains We Can Climb I had two goals: writing about letting go after loss in its various forms and showcasing a tiny area of Yosemite and part of the foothills that stretch at the foot of the National Park. Although the town where Noelle lives is entirely fictional it is based on several towns I know well.

I also deliberately set the novel over the course of the hottest month of June in history. At the beginning of the novel, Noelle compares what will happen if she reveals the secret she’s holding to the spark that starts that has the power to start a devastating fire in the foothills.

As fires rage in the north and the south of the state I am grateful that my family and people I know have always been spared by their tragic consequences.

And in a sad turn of event I am also glad to have set my novel in the foothills, a tiny homage to California, two of my children’s home state.

 

Lonesome California Poppy

 

Every year, the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo starts on the first day of November.

I decided to participate this year with the goal to have a 50 000 words draft ready by the end of the month.

So what happened during this second week?

Saturday: Each writing critique group works differently. Mine follows two simple rules: the writer never reads his/her work and always waits for everyone’s comments until providing clarification if needed and asking questions.

The theme of the Picture Book manuscript I shared that day was unanimously liked. Being liked is not enough to submit. Each of my partners had suggestions so I could improve the pace and nail the ending. It can be hard to listen to various opinions but also very productive when they meet. It was the case for this specific story.

Sunday: In French we say Il faut battre le fer pendant qu’il est chaud or Strike while the iron is hot. So, with comments still very fresh in my mind I came up with a second draft in the afternoon, purposely letting my novel simmers.

Monday: I found out that my application to a book festival paired to school visits has been accepted. Small successes are so crucial to each of us, regardless of the nature of our work. So I felt uplifted and wrote. Still halfway from the 2000 magic word-count, though, and I questioned my slow pace.

Tuesday: Unable to pinpoint the exact reason I still had the gut feeling that something was off with my new novel. I still wrote. But strayed away after writing 900 words.

Wednesday: The aha moment or le déclic in French: Evelyne, you are not writing a YA novel but a Middle Grade novel. The protagonist cannot be a teen girl since she’s 11-year-old when she’s talking to you!

I was just not listening. When I did listen, though, everything fell slowly in place. Not the details of the plot that always evolve as I write, but my protagonist’s problem was clear. My main theme became evident. The trick for me is to capture in one sentence what the story is about. If I can’t then I need to think again about what I want to write about. Also the ending is always clear when I’m on the right tracks.

On Wednesday night, I felt more confident and excited to have found the reason why something felt odd.

Thursday: I woke up early and although I have a hard time staying away from the news those days, I did not even check my email and wrote. I even settled on a working title that could be the definitive one. Still keeping it to myself for now J

Friday: The day has just started…

 

Conclusion of the second NaNoWriMo week:

 

*It is okay to err.

*It is also important to trust the gut feeling and the small inner voice. They always know the truth.

*A strange beginning of week that ends on a much more a positive note.

 

On another positive note, Thanksgiving is around the corner.

 

I was moved to read that recent immigrants still embrace this particular holiday with genuine fervor. As true newcomers, most add to the turkey signature dish their own twist with particular spices or side dishes from their homeland. Some even practice before the big day when it’s their first Thanksgiving.

I remember my husband and me waking up so early on our first Thanksgiving, only because the turkey we purchased, although the smallest, was still huge and it would take hours to cook it properly. We wanted to eat when everyone across the States would eat, too. Our first Thanksgiving resembled what the most recent immigrants will experience on Thursday.

Happy Thanksgiving to you, my fellow immigrant!

I also know of a few Americans now living abroad. They still celebrate, despite the fact that Thursday is a working day for them. It is a lonely feeling to rejoice without family and friends from the homeland.

So I send you my warm wishes on this 2018 Thanksgiving.

And to everyone else, wherever you live across these big United States, I wish each of you a Happy Peaceful Thanksgiving Day.

At some point, I learned that many Americans wear the color red on Thanksgiving to mark the beginning of the holiday season. Which explains my selection of red flowers.

Due to the holiday I will not blog on Friday. Enjoy those yummy leftovers!

French Friday: A Novel Draft in a Month

Every year the National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo starts on the first day of November.

This year I’m participating with the goal to have 50 000 words down by the end of the month.

So what happened during this first week?

THURSDAY: I woke up receiving a really thoughtful rejection for one of my Picture Book manuscripts with an invitation to send more of my work. A little disappointed but still uplifted, I outlined my new novel and wrote 1000 words.

FRIDAY: Early morning, I received another e-mail regarding the same Picture Book manuscript. This time, the editor asked me if I would be interested to work on a round of revision in order to bring this story to publication. Bring it on!

My 2000 words objective was again derailed because I searched for another manuscript to send to the first publisher and mostly because I felt anxious to receive the editor’s thoughts and start working on the revisions.

SATURDAY: Thursday and Friday’s e-mails were still on my mind. Picture Books very much, too. So I wrote another one, based on its title, which is actually a real question my youngest daughter asked me shortly after her brother’s birth. Sometimes finding a title is the hardest thing, sometimes it starts everything. In this case, I wrote very quickly and had a first 500-word draft ready by the end of the day. Right on time for my monthly critique meeting next Saturday.

MONDAY: Early morning I found Nicki’s blog post in my Inbox and it made my day. She had invited me for an interview about my YA novel All the Mountains We Can Climb. Nicki’s blog is one of the most thoughtful and interesting blogs I follow. She’s a writer, too, and I encourage you to visit her.

TUESDAY: The midterms elections affected my focus. The late results kept me agitated for most of the day. Besides, I was still waiting for the editor’s suggestions and was a little edgy. I still wrote 900 words. Painfully, though.

WEDNESDAY: My husband took me for breakfast, something we occasionally do, either as a celebration or consolation. Let’s say that this breakfast played both roles. Still unsure of my post midterms election mood, although I saw the number of women elected as a good reason to cheer up, I wrote another 1000 words. A friend of mine was organizing a panel with local authors and teens at our library. She had invited me and confirmed the event and the date for January. Always positive to meet the people who are building the world’s future.

THURSDAY: Very early morning my husband told me about another gun massacre in the LA area. Although no one we know has been killed or wounded, it is one too many. Disturbed, I ended up completing the entire revision for a compilation I intend to introduce soon on this very blog. I also submitted one manuscript to the publisher who wanted to see more of my work. The editor apologized for being late with her revision thoughts and promised to get back to me very soon.  Relieved, I returned to work and put 1000 words down.

FRIDAY: It is another writing day…

 

Conclusion of the first NaNoWriMo week:

*Writing and discipline work hand in hand. Physical but also mental discipline.

*An emotionally charged week, where personal and national events took control of me.

*So I didn’t write 2000 words every day.

*Yet I wrote every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Friday: November Is a Bridge To NaNoWriMo

The first autumn I spent in Paris stays close to my memory.

On Saturdays and Sundays, when I had no classes, I took long walks along unknown streets that carried me from one arrondissement to another.

During these solitary autumnal walks, the bridges (thirty-seven in Paris) that straddle the River Seine and link the left and right banks took literally my breath away. I liked nothing more than crossing the Pont Neuf, the Pont Saint Louis, or my very favorite the Pont Alexandre III.

Soon, autumn deepened and winter drew closer. By November, I hugged my raincoat closer to my body and my scarf tighter around my neck. Below the bridges, the River Seine glistened, a thick grey ribbon, disturbed by the gusts of winds and chilly rains.

Lacking the beauty of early autumn and upcoming winter, November felt, however, essential to transition between these two seasons.

Much time has passed since my footsteps echoed along those Paris bridges, the sound as familiar as the beating of my blood.

Yet, November remains for me a bridge from fall to winter.

This year November will also be my bridge to NaNoWriMo.

In the past, I’ve already participated to the yearly national novel writing event. My middle grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines started over one particular month of November.

Twice, however, I twisted the rules and used the month of November to write stories and picture book manuscripts instead of a novel.

This year, I decided to return to the simple rule that defines NaNoWriMo.

From November 1st to the 30th participants write with the goal to have 50 000 words down by the end of the month. For a YA or adult novel it is likely not enough for a complete first draft, but it is a very good start. When I followed this rule I tried to stick to 2000 words a day but Sundays. NaNoWriMo specifies that the novel should be an entirely new project that has not been started yet, although it’s acceptable to have an outline.

My 2018 project is both new and not outlined.

The only thing I knew before I started yesterday is that it would be another YA novel. I also knew that I wanted to write about two of my favorite things in life: books and baking.

There will still be French elements. Of course!

And it will be set in Maine.

During the month of November, French Friday will recap my week of writing, focusing on inspiration and motivation, and on challenges linked to writing in another language, more than characterization and plot.

I’ve no doubt that I’ll go through many ups and downs as I plow my way through the very first draft of a very new story.

So wish me luck and continue to support me through my already published novels. By the way, I’m happy to see that All the Mountains We Can Climb has received its first 5 stars review. Check it out!

 

P.S. It’s never too late to embark the NaNoWriMo boat. Here is the link to see how it works. 

It is also totally okay to skip the official registration and still write 50 000 words this month.

 

Will you follow the path and get to the Word Count?

 

French Friday: Behind a Novel

Years ago, I met a widely published author who told me that writing fiction was writing about what we do not know.

In 2018, particularly in children’s literature, more authors focus on what they know and what they have experienced.

But we cannot possibly live enough lives to have experienced every possible situation. Fiction is not writing about ourselves either or about people we know, changing names and twisting facts.

What if fiction allowed writers and readers to meet somewhere in between?

Today I am taking you behind the scene. Why did I write ALL THE MOUNTAINS WE CAN CLIMB?

 

For years I drove my kids to their high school, following a gorgeous road that cuts through Central California’s foothills and takes visitors to the three most visited National Parks in California: Kings Canyon and Sequoia southbound and Yosemite northbound.

In the winter, fog rolled over the fields, making traffic hazardous but the eerie drive peaceful. In the spring, cows grazed only feet away from the highway banks where wild flowers grew. Once we even saw a cow giving birth. As early as mid June heat browned the grass and turned the Sierras blue and blurry. My family was lucky to escape the brutal dry heat of the summer and fortunate to be there in the fall, which brought tarantulas right in time for Halloween and well-deserved cooler temperatures.

Often, driving home after long school days we watched the sun put the western sky in fire. We were then the guests of a show for which we got first row seats.

Every day we spotted wild animals that sometimes leaped or flew right in front of the car.

We also spotted too many crosses, flowers and wreaths, makeshift memorials in honor of a loved one.

This road was as spectacular as it was deathly.

It saddened me that so many people could die in such beautiful surroundings. Even sadder was the fact that many were young men and women, too often teenagers.

This heartbreaking reality planted the early seeds for All the Mountains We Can Climb.

The plot grew when some young people, barely older than mine or sometimes the same age, kids that my family knew through common friends and acquaintances lost their lives either behind the wheel or as passengers.

I could not stop thinking of their friends and families affected by the tragedy. Would they ever be able to move on? How would they deal with the weight of guilt and the grip of sorrow?

This is how I decided to write a story about tragic loss, guilt, grief, and ultimately forgiveness.

All the Mountains We Can Climb, however, remains a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, including the town in the vicinity of Yosemite, and incidents are strictly the product of my imagination.

Only a few elements are based on my personal experience.

I’ve climbed to the top of Half Dome several times.

Noelle, the protagonist of the novel, hikes the legendary summit under the moonlight, which I’ve also done.

Two of my children are musicians. Like my daughter, Noelle plays the alto saxophone and like my son she intends to study music in college.

My native France is never far from my mind, so I created French characters and wove French cultural elements through the story. Including some baking and cooking.

All the Mountains We Can Climb is above all a story about healing after a tragedy, understanding that loss is a universal human experience, accepting the importance of professional help, and ultimately saying yes to a second chance.

A heartfelt thank you to anyone who gave me chance and ordered my novel.

Let’s Climb These Mountains.

See You at the Top!

 

FRENCH FRIDAY: HIGH SCHOOL VISITS IN FLORIDA

Last Friday, I found myself at the very tip of Northern Florida for a full day of school visits.

As I drove on this gorgeous stretch of Florida I was tempted to skip the events and go for a hike and a picnic. The blend of states parks, beach parks, marshes, creeks and ocean is distinct from the rest of the state and on Friday the early morning fog rising from the Amelia River tugged at me, the promise of a beautiful day.

But I’m so glad I only skipped my weekly French Friday blog post 🙂

School visits are always special. These five last ones included.

At the first high school, the librarian had invited me to show up before my presentation so I could have breakfast. She spoke of a continental breakfast. And it would have been plenty enough. There is nothing better than fresh coffee, donuts, banana bread, and fresh fruit to put everyone in a good mood, right?

No, there are the breakfast sandwiches that nobody but locals know about.

To be frank I’m not a huge breakfast person, but I always try what the locals eat. When I am invited somewhere I am part of a place, even for the time of a visit. Or for the time of a breakfast ham, cheese and egg on an English muffin.

And when there is a story behind what I eat, it’s even better.

The chair of the English department was there and as any good English teacher he told good stories. The one behind the breakfast sandwiches is here. In his own words, it was the best idea anyone had to give another life to a closed gas station. In a great American way, although some people thought that serving food in a gas station was weird many more and even the reluctant ones gave it a chance. Their patronage brought the joint to the Washington Post. Not bad. The breakfast sandwich I picked was great. I only wished I could have enjoyed it, slow and easy, but I’m always a little nervous before speaking in front of many people. Next year I will make sure to stop by T-Rays to celebrate the end of the day. Have a look it’s really cool.

Parents play a huge role in American schools. Including at that high school. I spotted some dads signing in for the seniors’ field trip. And a mom stamped my novels (I use an Eiffel Tower and a small café stamps when I sign) so I only had to write a short sentence and add my name. While we worked together we spoke. Of course. She hoped to live in France for a little while, at some point. I love it when people share their dreams because it’s the only way to realize that we are all so similar despite our differences.

At this high school, I met with three groups of sophomores in their media center. I love libraries and librarians. This school is so fortunate to have a huge media center and an amazing librarian who cares so much for the students. I spoke about writing, writing in a foreign language and of France too. I had downloaded more music and I played extracts to cut the presentation and also whenever I felt they needed a break. And when I needed one too 🙂

At the end of the third presentation one of the teachers told me that I was like a teacher. I thanked her. And she added that like a teacher I warmed up as I went and adapted to my audience. I had not really noticed but then saw that my notes were left on a chair. I had not once looked at them. Q&A was fantastic. Few kids had traveled to Europe and even less to France, so it’s always with a mix of humility and pride that I try to introduce my small but complex native country.

I had an hour ahead of me to drive to a neighborhing high school, half an hour away. Traffic was jammed, so I missed the lunch graciously offered by the French teacher and munched on my cereal bars instead. I missed that breakfast sandwich.

There, I met a mix of freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, all taking French. They had read my novel in class and had tons of questions.

Their French teacher being French it was an additional treat.

My most favorite moments of the afternoon:

  1. What do you miss most about France ? Some people more than things.
  2. What do you like best about the USA ? The list is too long to even start one.
  3. How long did it take you to be fluent in English ? You don’t want to know.
  4. Can you say: “squirrel” because our French teacher can’t ? She and I are even.

Of course, I answered each and every question and agreed to repeat a few words in English. We joked and laughed and this is what we all should do more often.

On Friday, however, being invited to two high schools located in Florida made it impossible to ignore the shooting that had happened 48 hours earlier, on Valentine’s Day, in another high school in the very same state.

I knew I would make sure to talk to the media specialist and the French teacher before meeting their students. I didn’t have to. Teachers and staff told me upfront that it had been hard to be at school since then, but that life had to go on. At the end of the day an announcement reminded students that support was available to anyone who needed to talk.

And yet it was hard to imagine a similar tragedy happening on these bucolic campuses.

I bet people thought similarly in Parkland.

On my way out I saw groups of teenagers waving goodbye to each other, hugging each other. There was after all a three-day weekend in perspective. They all looked so young, so full of energy and possibilities. And I felt suddenly sad and angry too.

Knowing that my own children had been spared from such tragedies through their entire schooling didn’t change my mood.

I’ve always favored the American inclusive schooling to the more rigid French style I’ve known. But I’ve also envied French students for the safety of their schools. Even now with terrorist threats ever present on the French soil, no student has ever shot his classmates.

Our American children and teenagers could be as safe as the French.

It is an American paradox I will never understand. When people are so civil and courteous in the street, in the stores and on the roads what justifies their need for weapons? When they come together as one in times of hardship what explains the unconditional support for the Second Amendment ?

As our nation was mourning again the loss of young lives, I felt sick and tired of hearing that we needed to keep them and their families in our thoughts and prayers.

Of course, we would. How couldn’t we?

But thoughts and prayers obvioulsy have not exactly worked.

Over the last years, I’ve signed every possible petition regarding gun control and also the need for a better understanding and management of mental health.

Obvioulsy, they have not worked either.

Each time a school shooting or a mass shooting happened we all believed it would be the last.

And yet.

I felt angry.

And I did not want to pray.

So I turned on the radio, which I often do when I drive.

This is how I first heard of the Florida man who decided to turn his own AR-57 in to the sheriff’s office and asked them to destroy it after the school shooting.

If you missed it you can read the interview highlights here. His Facebook post went viral.

I listened to the much longer conversation he had with NPR. At some point, he mentionned that thoughts and prayers didn’t feel enough for him and that the tragedy called for action.

It’s only one man, one action.

What if…

 

The soft Atlantic waves

 

Pour vous qui vivez en France, ce court article paru dans Le Monde recense les fusillades les plus meurtrières aux USA depuis 25 ans. Tristement, je les ai toutes vécues. Après Columbine on a tous ici cru qu’un changement important se produirait. Après Sandy Hook, c’était certain.

Le congrès américain a explicitement interdit la vente d’armes semi automatiques entre 1994 et 2004. Mais depuis que la loi a expiré il est très facile de se les procurer de nouveau pratiquement n’importe où aux US. Seuls les états de New York, de Californie, le district de Columbia, et cinq autres états en interdisent la vente. Les mêmes états limitent aussi le nombre de cartouches qui peuvent être chargées dans une arme. Malgré cela, tout est fait pour annuler les interdictions, légalement et illégalement, en modifiant de façon mineure les armes.

Si vous lisez l’anglais, cet article du New York Times explique la situation actuelle.

Depuis Parkland, les lycéens expriment pour la première fois leur colère au-delà de leur douleur. Manifestations inhabituelles prennent place et la maturité des filles et garçons que nous entendons s’exprimer me donne raison. Je ne cesserai jamais de croire que l’avenir et les changements importants sont entre les mains des adolescents d’aujourd’hui.

En les écoutant depuis ce drame, je me dis que peut-être nous sommes enfin arrivés à un point de non retour.

Malheureusement, entre le moment où j’ai écrit ce billet et aujourd’hui il y a déjà un énorme nuage noir qui planne et laisse augurer de débats houleux.

Si vous le souhaitez, voici un article récent qui illustrent la longue route qui nous attend. Celui sur la situation de la santé mentale aux USA est intéressant. Les deux sont publiés dans le New York Times et peut-être pouvez les lire dans le Monde qui reprend régulièrement leurs articles.

J’ai souvent écrit à propos des rituels américains, particulièrement dans les écoles, rituels qui parfois m’ont fait sourire tant ils sont différents de ceux de la vie scolaire française, souvent étonnée, jamais fatiguée.

Que la tragédie de Parkland devienne un rituel scolaire américain serait monstrueux.

 

 

 

Belated French Friday: C’Est Ouf to Meet Smart, Kind Middle School Students on Crêpes Day

Post-classroom visit

It’s a belated French Friday post, only because I was meeting a class of 8th graders yesterday.

Which was ouf.

Last Friday, I left you with two French expressions. Dan used the services of Google and suggested “Get the pill” for “Se dorer la pilule” and “This is a pick of ouf” for “c’est un truc de ouf.”

Thank you, Dan for trying. Really, that was cool. But I cannot give you an A. That’s Google’s fault, really.

Google, can you hire me?

* Se dorer la pilule doesn’t mean to get the pill but to get a tan, also simply to relax without doing anything.

Get the pill would be “Prendre la pilule” and it would also be said in reference to the birth control pill.

On the other hand, we don’t have the exact equivalent of the vivid American expression: Take a chill pill.

* Ouf is Fou, only written backwards. Fou in French means crazy.

C’est ouf means it’s crazy.

Un truc is a thing.

C’est un truc de ouf means it’s a crazy thing.

 

So, yes, meeting with the kids yesterday was ouf, in a very good way.

C’est ouf!

Following your advice, I went with a selection of photos depicting France and Paris. One one girl had been to Paris, so all of them enjoyed my personal Normandy selection. And they smiled when they saw me at their age.

As expected, the addition of music was a great idea. I played music while the students settled in. Then I picked classic French songs and extracts of contemporary songs from singers and bands and played them during the presentation. Even the teacher could not sit still when she heard some French rap.

Since the main characters of my novel eat at different cafés, I added a few slides about typical fare that Parisians and French eat at their favorite cafés.

 

And I wore my special T-shirt 🙂

The kids loved my last slides about the Chandeleur. Eating crêpes on February 2 is yummier than waiting for a groundhog to see or not his shadow.

So after the school visit I rushed home to prepare my batter. When my four children lived at home I doubled and sometimes even tripled the recipe and we ate crêpes for dinner. Now my husband and I have a couple for dessert and eat the leftovers warmed up for breakfast.

But when I arrived we changed our minds, so I made a regular batter.

The batter, my mom wrote on her recipe, should not be too thin and should not be too thick. That’s the reputation people from Normandy have: undecided 🙂 But her crêpes batter is the bomb.

 

First crepe is like a first draft. Necessary.

Better

My husband added a sunny-side-up egg on our crepes

We ate until there was no batter left 😦

I wish you all a fantastic weekend!

If you are a football fan, enjoy the Super Bowl. I know of a few diehard Patriots fans around me. It’s in my nature to cheer for the underdog. Although, on Super Bowl I will be found in a park or at the movies, which are pretty quiet on Super Bowl.

Just saying 🙂

 

French Friday: My Étonnant Native Country

One of my best friends, a picture book author, is happy as a clam when she talks to 100 kindergartners. I know of other authors, who adore huge assemblies.

I’m a small group person. Big parties and large venues have never been my thing. Concerts are an exception. Still, I’d rather see my favorite bands or singers in a small club than a stadium.

In the next few weeks, I will meet with more than 400 middle school and high school students. I just found out that their teachers decided to separate them in smaller groups. So I will have one presentation at the middle school and four at two different high schools on the same day. Phew, what a relief.

What worries me now is the fact that for the first time ever I will meet students who take French at school. This should comfort me since anything French is my thing, right? In fact, as I am preparing my presentation, I keep questioning its content.

Usually I split my one-hour power point presention in four parts:

* My French background shown through slides from my hometown and surroundings.

* The process of writing, from the choice of topic to the editing. I also include elements about writing in a non-native language.

* Multiple-choice questions based on my novel, which is shared in class prior to my visit.

* Q&A is always my favorite part, so I allow 10 minutes.

But as I am now selecting my slides, I am caught in a spiral of thoughts:

How do I introduce contemporary France to teenagers who learn how to speak France but have not necessary been there yet?

What should I tell them about my native land? How honest do I want to be?

Is it okay to show its flaws? Will it discourage young people to visit?

In my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines I introduced the early immigration issues that took place in the France of my childhood in the 1970s. Almost fifty years later, France is still dealing with immigration issues.

Do I want to show the gathering of migrants at Porte de la Chapelle, still happening after the regular dismantling of the camps and despite the opening of welcome centers, too small to accomodate everyone?

But there is also genuine concern for the migrants’ situation. French people want to exemplify the motto Liberté Égalité Fraternité.

So what about Calais?

Now shouldn’t I stay with a classic vision of France, particularly of Paris, with its lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques? Is cliché versus authentic okay?

After all, there are still lovely cafés and sophisticated boutiques in Paris. They sit blocks away from the gathered migrants and within an hour from the projects in the suburbs.

In my Young Adult thriller Trapped in Paris, the two protagonists find themselves in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, less than ten miles away and yet another world.

What about music? Music plays a huge role in any teen’s life.

Once in a while, when I’m in a store or a café in the U.S. I hear French music. Almost always it’s soft French music. Often Edith Piaf singing La Vie en Rose or even Charles Trenet and La Mer. But Carla Bruni is now a favorite, as well as Serge Gainsbourg and Zaz.

It is said that when French-style music is played in a store, the atmosphere shifts from ordinary to sophisticated. In fact, some storeowners are known to play French music or French music-style when they have French items, such as wine or cheese, to sell. Shoppers don’t even notice but are still influenced.

Many contemporary French singers such as Julien Doré still exemply the unique French poetic musical style.

But what about hip-hop bands or rappers who use music as a media to address racism, poverty, immigration, unemployment, topics of concern for many French people?

Now I scroll down my own playlist and wonder about the older Manu Chao. The singer started his musical career a few years before I left France but really took off in the mid 1990s. With his mix of reggae, ska, with clear Latino roots he changed the traditional French musical scene.

Now what about the diverse French rap scene, a mix of rap de rue or street rap, conscious rap, popular rap, and other sub genres in between?

Should I add the hip-hop band Nèg Marrons? After all they wrote one of my favorite songs about their parents.

As I prepare my presentation and debate pros versus cons the complexity of my native land is palpable.

So for now only one thing is sure: the choice of the T-shirt I will wear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From the Writer’s Den

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For the second year in a row I was able to attend the Amelia Island Book Festival, set on the gorgeous Northern Florida Coast.

This festival always gathers famous authors.

I really got the chair de poule when the one and only Goosebumps’ creator R.L. Stine stepped behind his table to sign his books, only a few feet away from mine.

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I spoke with the French chef and TV personality Jacques Pépin. En français, of course.

Although I missed him, David Baldacci was there too.

But it’s even better to meet author friends.

 

photo-50My friend Jennifer Swanson writes awsome non fiction books for children about science.

On Friday, I was part of the Authors in School program and visited a local middle school, half an hour inland. There, I met ninety students who had read my novel Chronicles From Château Moines. Their school librarian had handpicked my book among many others. We had exchanged a few emails prior to my visit, but nothing beats the pleasure to meet in person someone who trusts you with her students.

I’ve already shared on this blog what I think of libraries and librarians. I basically put them on a pedestal. Public libraries have saved me at several moments of my life.

When I was a shy kid who took comfort in books but had no money to buy them new.

When I was a student, new to Paris and still on a tight budget.

When I was a newcomer to the USA and understood that I had to become as fluent as possible in all things American if I wanted to call this vast country my home one day.

The countless hours I’ve spent inside libraries, whether in France or the United States, have offered me so much more than just books.

So on Friday, I was very happy when I found out that I would meet the students inside their school library.

The librarian had given me carte blanche for my presentation, but she had told me that it would be wonderful to emphasize the historical facts that are the backdrop of my novel.

I also knew that most of the students had probably not traveled abroad. After all, I had also lived a rural childhood and only went to London (my first ever trip abroad) when I was at the university, even though I lived right across the Chanel.

So I figured that telling these boys and girls a little bit about France would interest them. But you know what is said about show, don’t tell?

So I added several photos from my native Normandy to my presentation. I’m lucky because Normandy is one of the most renowned French regions in the US. Sadly, it is mostly due to WWII and D Day.

flersMy hometown.

domfrontDomfront, Normandy

caenCaen, Normandy where I did my undergrad studies

plagenormandieD Day landing beaches

But I was visiting twelve and thirteen-year-old students, so this war is a very old war that cannot resonate much with them.

So I told them about my dad chewing his first piece of gum and my mom eating chocolate for the first time in years, when they were barely older than them.

Based on my last school visit and the success of the French song I played, I also added more music to this presention. These kids love French music, even though they don’t understand the lyrics.

I admitted that I couldn’t understand English lyrics either when I arrived in California. They asked me how long it took me to be fluent. In general, specified one.

That’s a hard question. You don’t want to discourage anyone, right? But you cannot lie either. So I made a distinction between oral comprehension and reading skills, between casual conversation and writing skills. Also that is was easier to learn a foreign language when you were a child.

After a Trivia Game based on the novel, we ended with a Q&A moment.

A girl shared that she was like Sylvie in my book: she also wrote songs in a notebook.

A boy told me that he wanted to play professional basketball like Jake.

Another one played the guitar like Scott.

It’s a good feeling when a reader relates to one fictional character.

That’s why I loved reading so much when I was a kid. Finding someone who was a little bit like me or a lot like me made me understand that I was not alone and that much different from anyone else.

Another girl asked me to say something in French. That’s a common question. Even adults sometimes ask me to speak French. So I returned the question and asked them what they wanted me to say.

“Tell us in French that you will sign our books at the end.”

So I did tell them under oohhs and aahhs.

Which always surprises me because French is my native language and I have no idea why everyone thinks it’s beautiful.

I told them that I’d love to speak American English like them and they looked at me like it was the weirdest dream to have.

They also wanted to know if their first names had a French equivalent.

I made Violet (Violette), Luke (Luc), and Alexander (Alexandre) happy and I felt bad to break the news to Tray, Shellby and Devon. But I reassured them: many French kids now have American first names too.

The boys and girls who had a name with a French equivalent asked me to sign their copy of my book in French. Aw…

 

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And they liked the T-shirt I wore. I bought it for another school visit right before Valentine’s Day and decided that it was okay to wear it again, even a few days after Valentine’s Day.

Besides, the story is about peace, said one girl. Right.

So, in case we doubt that our diverse backgrounds and personal stories cannot open discussions and create links between us, here is the truth:

Kids and teens in this early part of the 21st century are curious, smart, open minded, generous and non judgmental.

The future is theirs and it is in good hands when the heart is at the right place.

I trust them. All of them.

From one coast to another and everywhere in between.

And of course, beyond our frontiers.

 

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From Maine to You

 

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Over the last months, many countries, including my native France, have been the target of particularly cruel violence. Whether the acts of radicalized Muslims blinded by the agenda of ISIS/Daech or unstable men, this violence triggers legitimate fear and more hatred. I’ve stopped reading about them, focusing instead on the simple joys of summer, especially short and hence precious here in Maine.

Before summer officially started, I was finished with the revisions I intended to complete on my new Young Adult novel. I have now started the long process of submission. Please, please, can you keep your fingers or whatever you want, crossed for me?

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While waiting for feedback, I’ve started a new story while another simmers at the edge of my mind. For the longest time, I rarely shared that I had too many stories on the stove. I thought it was the proof of an unfocused mind. Until I read that most writers had always several manuscripts on the back burner, too. Many of them renowned authors. But. They also know when to bring one of their simmering stews to the front burner. I’m undecided. Both of my new work-in-progress manuscripts are Middle Grade stories. Both are dealing with contemporary issues linked to economical and social inequality. While I’m covering pages with words and scenes, watching the lake already tipping into August, I leave you with a few photos from my July in Maine.

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Bear with me when I don’t comment on your blogs. I still think of you and wish you well. It’s just that my mind is churning ideas and trying to sort them.

Wherever you are, fill your days to the brim with the precious days of summer.

 

P.S. In my new YA novel tentatively called All the Mountains We Can Climb, there is food. A café. And three restaurants. And many meals around (or not) tables.

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This is our front lake family table in Maine. The table is my son’s age. We bought it so it could fit four children and their parents. I found a tablecloth with fish and I got the small water can at a school event. I love this table. As I love any table where so much happens besides eating.

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