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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ten Days to Add New E-Books to Your Favorite Tablet

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Starting Today and for the Next Ten Days I’m part of a Multi-Author and Cross-Genre Promotion.

Who Are the Authors? What Book? How Much?

Easy.

Check below for the list of participants, the book genres and readership.

Click on the author’s name for more information, including links to purchase the books.

 

Lucianna Cavallaro: Historical Fiction Mythology retold

Nicki Chen: Adult Historical Fiction WWII China

Jennifer Chow: Adult Cozy Mystery (first of a beginning series)

Katie Cross: YA Fantasy

Michael Fedison: YA Sci-fi/Fantasy

Evelyne Holingue: Middle-Grade Fiction

John Howell: Fiction Thriller

Barbara Monier: Contemporary Literary Fiction

Shehanne Moore: Historical Romance

Jo Robinson: Non-Fiction guide to publishing on Amazon and CreateSpace

Sonya Solomonovich: Time Travel Fantasy

Janice Spina: Middle-Grade Detective Mysteries

 

A Few Things about my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines:

Click Here for a Free iPad version and Here for a Kindle version, offered at $0.99 today and for One Additional Dollar every following day for the next seven days. Don’t wait!

Publishers Weekly has described Chronicles From Château Moines as a “… charming novel set in a small village in Normandy in the early 1970s, braiding together American and French cultures via the alternating narratives of 12-year-old classmates Scott and Sylvie.”

And wrote that, “… Holingue creates a vivid, multigenerational cast of provincial characters, addressing the simmering anti-immigrant sentiments within the village while evoking the larger political and social climate of the stormy era.”

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Enjoy this pre-holiday e-book sale and treat yourself to new stories TODAY!

Thank you for your support!

 

 

Fall Pick

 

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What’s better than reading your favorite author’s latest book? Discovering a new author.

My most exciting September find is a hilarious and yet poignant YA novel written by Canadian author Susin Nielsen.

Stewart has always wanted a sister and at the age of ten believes that his dream has finally come true. Sadly his beloved mom is not pregnant but has ovarian cancer and will die, leaving Stewart and his father very lonely and very sad.

The story starts two years after the devastating event. Stewart is a precocious kid, attending Little Genius Academy where he is thriving among other academically smart kids. However, his social kills aren’t that great, which again is not an issue since his friends are as nerdy as he is.

His father Leonard is now dating Caroline, who divorced her husband Phil when he announced that he is gay. Stewart is glad to see his father happy again, but he worries a lot when he finds out that they are soon moving to Caroline’s house. He is still mourning his mom. As a budding scientist he challenges the idea of after-life but strongly believes that his mom’s molecules are all over their home. Where will they go if they move away? The only positive thing is that Caroline has a fourteen-year-old daughter. Maybe the time for thirteen-year-old Stewart to have a sister has come.

Alas when Ashley and Stewart meet it is clear that they have not a single molecule in common. When Stewart is using a vocabulary well above his age, Ashley hates reading anything but fashion magazines. Ashey is considered a hot girl at school and pays a lot of attention to her appearance, while Stewart hasn’t reached pubery yet and couldn’t care less about his clothes. Their only common point (of course, they don’t know it yet is their personal quest for a family).

Things heat up when Stewart decides to attend the local school since his Academy is now too far. Because of Stewart’s top GPA he’s moved to freshman year, in Ashley’s grade. From the second Stewart and Ashley meet, their worlds collide, creating hilarious and yet serious situations. Ultimately the very satisfying ending brings closure to six months of roller coaster life both at school and at home and offers the promise of a sister to Stewart.

We Are All Made of Molecules is a story about family love and loyalty and about the human ability to re-build heartbroken families. It is also a story about growing up, resisting popular pressure and making difficult but right choices.

Written with wit and heart, and told from Stewart and Ashley’s perspectives, in short alternating chapters, the novel made me laugh out loud and shed a few tears, too.

Oh I forgot: there is also a cat, Stewart’s beloved pet. In many children’s books there is a dog, always the child’s loyal companion. I love the idea of the cat in this novel. A cat, we all know when we love them, can be as loyal and comforting as a dog in times of sorrow.

If you have a kid who loves warm-hearted stories with a mix of nerds and popular kids, has a great sense of humor and enjoys witty dialogues, this novel will become a favorite. I guarantee it.

As for me I’m already checking Susie Nielsen’s previous novels.

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Next week will mark the first anniversary of the publication of my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Chateau Moines. I just read a very thorough review here. If you haven’t read Chronicles From Chateau Moines and want to know more before purchasing it, I hope this will decide you.

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Also next week, Kaleidoscope, the anthology published by Writers Abroad will be released. My story City of Lights is part of this year volume.

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More soon…

Meanwhile I wish you all well. Enjoy the fall season!

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Take your iPad to Paris and Normandy For Free Until Labor Day

To introduce my Young Adult and Middle Grade novels to the readers who cannot travel without their iPad, I’m offering Trapped in Paris and Chronicles From Château Moines for Free on iBooks until Labor Day.

Enjoy! Spread the news! Leave reviews!

Happy Reading to All of You From my Favorite Summer Writing Spot in Maine!

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Looking for a Gift Made From Scratch and Created With Passion?

On the Golden Gate Bridge I saw a couple of cars decorated with reindeers’ antlers and red noses.

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Sorry I couldn’t take a good picture: too much rain that day.

Since I landed in California from my native France, I’ve made mine whatever surprised me back then.

Okay, I’m pretty sure that I will never get a pair of antlers and a red nose for my car, but Père Noël and Santa Claus are good friends in my home.

Both bring thoughtful gifts.

Yesterday I received an e-mail from one of my college daughters, asking the family to stay away from costly Christmas purchases and to focus instead on gifts Made From Scratch or gifts that have been created with passion.

E-mails like that make me feel so optimistic for our future. Our kids are great. Our kids are thoughtful.

In my Inbox there was also an update for a review on my Middle Grade Novel.

“This well-written book would make a great holiday gift for “tweens” and older,” wrote this reviewer.

Thank you.

And thank you if you read my book and wrote a review. It means the world to me. Really.

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Although Thanksgiving is the day to express our thanks and gratitude, I think that the holiday season is also a perfect time to be thankful for the people who surround us and make us happy in so many different ways.

Through the gifts we choose for our family and friends, we really say I love you.

And so we want of course to offer the best to express this love.

People who know me well enough don’t search too much for me.

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I could share with you a long list of terrific books that I have enjoyed in 2014. All would make perfect gifts. Most have been written by excellent writers that I admire a lot but don’t really need my recommendations.

On the other hand I know of a few good writers who are less renowned and yet deserve some attention.

Like me they published in 2014.

I like the fact that they live in three different continents.

Oh and they also blog beautifully, generously, relentlessly.

 

FOR CHILDREN

Little Mike is adorable with his spiky red hair and his unlimited imagination. Mike the Spike by Stella Tarakson is a fun and smart picture book delightfully illustrated just made for the early reader on your list.

FOR YA

The second book in the fantasy Network Series trilogy by Katie Cross is as wicked good as number one. Witchery with a twist for the teen fantasy fan on your list.

FOR ADULTS

A second chance at love and life is offered to Katherine in Provence. Promises to Keep by Patricia Sands is a delightful read for any woman into anything French.

And because you deserve a treat, too, check Kimberly Sullivan’s blog for some of her published short stories about Italian women and expat women living in Italy.

 

Need more ideas? Stop by Andrea, Anthony, Jennifer, Marcia, Marilyn, Mike, Nicki, Teagan for stories, poems and novels. If I forgot someone, forgive me.

There are just so many books to read and unfortunately too little time.

Remember, books are Made From Scratch and created with passion.

 

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What Can Happen When We Feel Strange, Stupid, Different

While I am working on promoting my Middle Grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines, I re-read Wonder, which is in my opinion one of the best Middle Grade novels of the last two years.

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Wonder by R.J Palacio is the kind of book that has the power to turn any reader into a better person. I guarantee you.

The main character August Pullman, nicknamed Auggie, was born with a very rare genetic defect that affects his face. Although his parents have regular faces, they both carry a mutant gene that gave Auggie a bad number in the genetic lottery. Even after countless surgeries, ten-year-old Auggie has a face that turns heads and makes people gasp.

Few of us experience with such dramatic life challenges. However most of us have been, at least once, in a situation where we’ve felt out of place. The feeling is unsettling, and we’re relieved to return to our familiar.

In Chronicles From Château Moines Scott is the new kid in town. He’s American, wears different clothes, and speaks French with an accent, putting him under an involuntary spotlight.

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Sylvie, the French local girl, reacts to his arrival in the seventh grade class:

“Despite his smile, he looks confused, and I wonder how it feels to be the new kid in a school and to be a foreigner.”

This is how Scott, the freshly arrived American boy, feels:

“My brain feels like a big bag stuffed with names, words, and sentences, all in French. Thanks to Mom, I knew enough French to fool the kids, yet they watched me as if I were an alien that Neil Armstrong brought back from the moon. My clothes and roller skates gave me away before I opened my mouth.”

I always feel bad for anyone who is in a place where he or she feels strange, stupid, and just different.

Throughout Wonder, we follow Auggie as he goes through a quiet yet extraordinary transformation. By the end of the school year, the kids from his fifth grade class and his family will also have changed.

It is not unusual for the new kid, disliked or just misunderstood, to bring change.

In Chronicles From Château Moines this is Scott who decides to organize a peace walk to oppose the Vietnam War, ultimately changing the dynamics at school and in the small town of Château Moines.

Obstacles or challenges, even less dramatic than Auggie’s, can make us terribly anxious but can also trigger bold moves, leading to real change.

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Now your turn.

What’s your favorite Middle Grade novel based on the topic of change?

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt different from the people around you?

Do you think that challenging situations can bring good things?

 

P.S. Just a friendly reminder that my novel is available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and can also be ordered from your favorite independent bookstore.

Post Publication Feelings

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Two feelings battled inside me as soon as Chronicles From Château Moines was released.

Relief: Regardless of the outcome, I did it.

Anxiety: Now that the story is no longer mine only, what will others say about it?

But when the first reviews appeared on Amazon, that Marcia invited me on her blog, that many friends congratulated me through e-mail and texts, and that Claire and Trinity posted reviews on their blogs, two new feelings replaced them.

Gratitude: Thank you, thank you, thank you, readers and bloggers, for your support and generosity.

Hope: Maybe more and more people will read my novel and like it enough to get it or recommend it to a child they know.

 

How do you feel when something you’ve created is out in the world?

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“Be Awesome, Be a Book Nut.”

Libraries have been my home away from home since a very long time.

biblio.flersIn one aisle of this castle used to be the library where I spent so much time in middle and high school. In my new novel Chronicles From Château Moines a library and its librarian play a significant role.

 

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a few hours with a delightful group of middle school students in a beautiful library. The kids were curious, funny, lively, and kind toward each other. A dream.

The librarian had set a table in the sunny yard. She had bought cookies and filled water pitchers. It was a perfect fall day.

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The kids’ laughter and after school conversations reached me inside while I was checking my power point presentation. Excitement and a little bit of apprehension churned inside me. It’s not bad, I’ve found out, to be a little nervous before speaking in public. This unsettling combo forces me to concentrate.

If you ever met me in person you would quickly understand that I need an additional introduction to any presentation I do. I wear my French accent like a tattoo. I mean permanent, of course.

So, before questions flood the room, I always use a few slides about France, my native Normandy, and Paris where I lived before moving to the US.

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Kids, unlike many adults, have no issue with accents. As long as I agree to translate for them a variety of words and expressions – the sillier, the better – we are in business. Yesterday was no different.

After complying with their request and even agreeing to say anything in French, I went back to my slide show. Hands popped up as I spoke about writing in another language and about my published stories and novels.

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I had prepared five copies of my first novel Trapped in Paris and highlighted short passages to illustrate my presentation. Having children or teens read excerpts of your book is a good idea as long as the group isn’t too large and you get some volunteers. Yesterday I was lucky, everyone wanted to read.

  • Listening to students read your story aloud is a great experience.
  • They are active and you don’t feel like being a talking head.
  • You can finally let go of the anxiety to fully enjoy the excitement part.

When I visit a library I always end on a slide with a quote from Dr. Seuss:

“Be Awesome, Be a Book Nut.”

Before I know it, I’m finished and always a little sad that it is over. Fortunately, there are questions and comments. And the nicest part is compliments. Kids are like that. They thank you for the chance you gave them to meet you. Really, I thank them for the opportunity.

What I like most when I have guests for dinner is when they linger and that conversations go on and on…

The same is true when I get to meet young readers.

This is when I’m finished that the real fun part starts. I can talk with them, ask them what kind of stories they like, who their favorite authors are, how they pick a book in a bookstore or a library.

You want to know too, right?

This bunch of mostly sixth and seventh grade girls favored fantasy, mystery, action, and graphic novels. They like real life stories too.

Some of their favorite authors are Rick Riordan, Veronica Roth, James Dasher, Gayle Forman.

Pretty impressive list, I know. They also told me that they pick a book based on its title, cover, and back cover, regardless of the author’s popularity. If these elements trigger their interest they will read the first pages and get the book or … not.  The fact that they aren’t only into big names is encouraging. The fact that their choice is made so quickly is not that different from the way adults pick one book versus another one.

They all wanted my book. Sweet. The library copy of Trapped in Paris had been checked out and I hadn’t brought enough copies with me.

“Can you come back next week?” a girl asked.

How do you say no to a pair of big brown eyes? The librarian smiled and nodded. Yes!!!

By 4:30 p.m. some kids were picked up. Some decided to go get a book upstairs. I stayed behind with a group of four girls and we continued our conversation.  About books, of course.

That’s what they said:

  • They don’t care if the main character of the book is a girl or a boy. They don’t care either if the author is a woman or a man.
  • They said that the boys they know read less than they do and favor boy characters. I couldn’t ask, the boys had left for sport practice, but it is a fact that the majority of kids who were at the library were girls.
  • They haven’t read each Harry Potter book (all were born after 2002) but devoured each and every book from the Percy Jackson and Olympians series.
  • They love characters who appear to be regular people – like me, said a girl – but who have special powers.
  • As for books made into movies, most see the movie before reading the book.

On my way out, under very nice thank yous and mercis, goodbyes and au revoirs, one of the youngest called me.

“There’s that book I just read,” she said. “I loved it and I think you’ll love it too. It’s called Drita My Homegirl. Maybe you can check it out?”

I went to the kids’ floor and got the book. It’s author Jenny Lombard’s first novel.

Like these kids, I always read the back cover of a book before buying it or checking it out.

“…a story that presents in alternating first-person chapters the evolution of an unlikely and difficult friendship – that of a African-American girl from the neighborhood and the unwelcome new kid in class: a girl from Kosovo who speaks no English.”

I smiled to myself. The sixth grader had noticed that Chronicles From Château Moines is also told from Scott and Sylvie’s perspectives. She had also compared the two plots. Scott moves from the US to France and has to adjust to a foreign country, while Sylvie has to accept that this new boy is changing life the way she knew it. The sixth grader had also understood my own challenges when I moved from France to the US.

She’s right, I thought. It’s definitely a book for me.

I always knew that I learn more during a library visit than anywhere else.

 

 

P.S. Chronicles From Château Moines will be released very soon. Stay with me!

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Look! My New Book Got a Cover!

When my first story was published in a children’s magazine, I knew that an illustrator would put a face on my set of characters. I was curious, of course, but hadn’t realized the importance of the illustrator’s personal interpretation of the writer’s story.

I was amazed to see how someone I had never met had been able to see so many details just by reading my story. The illustrations did more than compliment the story: They were necessary to trigger a young reader’s interest and add depth to my words. I loved the combo of writing and visual art.

The work of a book cover designer is different from a magazine illustrator. There are many elements to a novel. It’s impossible to depict all of them on a cover. Based on the detailed synopsis and the author’s questionnaire that I provided to Jennifer, she came up with several design options for my middle grade novel Chronicles From Château Moines.

Making the first selection was difficult for me since I liked several options from the twenty Jennifer sent me. I had to go through them many times before selecting the ones that gave, in my opinion, the best representation of the story. In fact, I had to say no to a few that I liked very much. Maybe for another book…

September was a busy family month for me, and not the easiest way to work, but thanks to our fabulous technology tools, I was able to follow Jennifer through her creative process and progress while helping my son moved into college, visiting my daughters, and seeing friends all over California. Jennifer and I were working and living on Eastern and Pacific Times but we did it!

Look!

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What do you say?

The publication is approaching…

Stay tuned for more news coming up soon!

 

L’Espoir de l’Automne

Le petit frère. The little brother. Le bébé. The baby.

Mon fils sera toujours cela pour ses sœurs et ses parents.

Alors qu’il vient de vivre sa première semaine à l’université je sais qu’il n’est pas seulement le petit dernier derrière trois grandes sœurs.

Il est le dernier à quitter la maison familiale pour vivre sa vie d’adulte. Son départ est une porte qui se ferme sur les chapitres paisibles de l’enfance et ceux plus turbulents de l’adolescence.

Le départ de mon fils pour l’université en ce début d’automne marque aussi l’automne de ma vie.

Cette saison, ma préférée de toutes, rassemble cette année les essences d’un parfum évoquant la pluie, avec la mélancolie mais aussi l’espoir qui l’accompagnent.

Comme les écureuils qui se préparent pendant l’automne, cachant avec soin les glands qui leur seront si précieux pendant l’hiver, je fais le plein des moments de bonheur de ce dernier été alors que j’étais encore une maman à plein temps.

Au milieu des souvenirs familiaux de déjeuners en plein air, de ballades sur la plage, de livres lus et relus, de promenades en canoë, de diners aux chandelles, me reviennent aussi des instants fugitifs, vécus avec des gens de passage.

 

L’homme conduit un énorme pick-up et traine une tout aussi grande remorque. A la station service il bloque l’accès aux pompes. Sans un mot, mais avec précision, il guide mon mari qui parvient à glisser notre véhicule vers la pompe du milieu. Un hochement de tête conclut le deal. Quand nous partons il n’a pas encore fini de faire le plein et lève la main en signe d’adieu.

Nous sommes à Natchitoches. Etablie par Louis Juchereau en 1714, c’est la ville la ville la plus ancienne de Louisiane.

 

« Pour votre frigo, » me dit le chef du restaurant chinois en me glissant une carte de visite magnétique. «  Et revenez vite, » ajoute-t-il avec un sourire immense.

Nous sommes à Tyler, dans une petite ville à l’est du Texas.

 

«C’est mon sapin d’automne, » me dit le propriétaire du petit restaurant mexicain.

Dans l’entrée se tient en effet un sapin artificiel décoré de guirlandes orange, de boules en forme de citrouilles et de petits épouvantails.

« Je change les décorations pour chaque saison et les grandes fêtes, » ajoute-t-il avec un sourire. « Et les petites entre deux. »

« C’est sympa, » lui dis-je.

« Je le fais pour les gens, » dit-il. «  Tout le monde aime ça. »

Nous sommes à Santa Rosa, au Nouveau Mexique.

 

Tous ces moments ordinaires qui ne font que passer sont pourtant restés dans ma mémoire. Au milieu du tumulte généré par les news, de tout ce que l’on dit et écrit de négatif sur le comportement des autres, je trouve ces rencontres à peine ébauchées porteuses d’espoir.

 

Pendant les trois mois d’été j’ai aussi pris beaucoup de photos. Je remarque en les triant de nombreuses petites allées qui symbolisent pour moi les possibilités pleines d’espoir qui s’ouvrent en ce début automne.

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Au bout de ma petite allée personnelle, il y a l’arrivée prochaine de Chronicles From Château Moines, mon roman pour enfants.

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J’espère que vous m’accompagnerez sur le chemin de sa sortie.

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En attendant, où que vous soyez, je vous souhaite un très bel automne.

 

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