It’s 1939 and eighteen-year-old American Paulette Rousseau arrives in Paris to study at the Sorbonne and to pursue an independent and happier future away from her self-absorbed parents. Her prayers appear answered when handsome and charismatic Guy de Laval invites her to join a chemistry study group he tutors. But when Guy asks her to join the French Resistance the following year, she questions whether she can live up to his expectations. Author Elizabeth Pye joins us to discuss how her latest novel, Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, came into being.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: When and where was your passion for the craft of writing first ignited?
A: Right in my backyard, so to speak. I grew up in Spotsylvania County Virginia in a rural area twenty-five miles from Fredericksburg, the closest town to our home. My daily life was surrounded with reminders of the history of the early years of our nation. For example, a stroll along the streets of Fredericksburg took me past James Monroe’s Law Office; Rising Sun Tavern—where most of the pre-Revolutionary statesmen and most of the generals, including French officers, visited there, and in 1775 the earliest Declaration of Independence was drawn up there; General Hugh Mercer’s Apothecary shop—where it is said George Washington kept an office; the home of Washington’s mother; and Kenmore, the lovely restored home of Colonel Fielding Lewis and his bride, Betty Washington Lewis.
All of the historical reminders of the Civil War will need to be visited on another day. Of course, that history is rich, indeed.
I concur with award-winning author Robert Heinlein, who said, “A generation which ignores history has no past and no future.”
Q: Did you have favorite authors and genres you liked to read were you were growing up?
A: My favorite authors were Louisa May Alcott, (Little Women), Nathanael Hawthorne, (House of Seven Gables), Frances Hodgson Burnett (Secret Garden), Edgar Allan Poe (The Murder in the Rue Morgue and The Fall of the House Usher).
Q: How about now?
A: My favorite authors include Daphne Du Maurier (Rebecca and The Glass-Blowers), Anya Seton (Green Darkness), Susanna Kearsley (The Winter Sea), Kristin Hannah (The Nightingale), Lucinda Riley, (The Lavender Garden), Jennifer Robson (Somewhere in France), Cara Black (Murder on the Left Bank), Jean-Francois Parot (The Nicolas Le Floch Affair), Honore de Balzac (The Vicar of Tours), Alan Furst (Mission to Paris) I prefer historical Romance, mysteries, and paranormal novels. As far as nonfiction goes, I enjoy memoirs and biographies.
Q: What is your particular draw to historical novels, especially plots which are set in France?
A: I am fascinated with history, and think that there are stories to be told in many ways. Historical novels provide an enjoyable way to go back in time and learn about ways of life during various periods of interest.
From a young age, I have been a Francophile although I had little exposure to French culture. I romanticized the French language, preferred Louis XV rococo style furniture—a far cry from the early American favorite of my mother, loved formal French gardens. Many years later my dreams were fulfilled when I first traveled to France and experienced the beauty of the Paris and Loire Valley (The Valley of the Kings) chateaus.
Q: Tell us what inspired you to pen your French Connection series and, most recently, including Mon Amour, Friend or Foe?
A: My love affair with many things French had piqued my interest sufficiently that I visited a hypnotherapist for a past life regression. I slipped in to relaxed state and became aware of my surrounding in eighteenth century Revolutionary Paris. I described my surroundings and provided names and dates of events when questioned by the hypnotherapist.
Thus, began an ongoing research project to confirm or debunk the information I described. I became more and more immersed in French history which led to my French Connection Series and the completion of the first draft of Return to Chateau Fleury, which I set aside when my husband was diagnosed with Pancreatic cancer.
I decided to write Mon Amour, Friend or Foe after the publication of Return to Chateau Fleury, the second book of the series, because the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II occurs in 2020, and remains in the memories of many people. I wanted to immerse myself in the story to gain insight as to how the French people responded to the occupation of their country. Aline, one of my favorite characters, is carried forward from Book 2 to this one.
Q: What is the underlying theme and structure of this latest title?
A: Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, is the third book in the series and is structured on the Fichtean Curve model, rather than the generally used Three Act Structure.
The primary theme of the story is Love vs. Duty. Secondary themes are Fear and Courage.
Q: For any type of series, there are inherent benefits and challenges. For instance, can your French Connection books be read out of order and still embrace continuity?
A: A qualified “yes.” Each of the three books can be read as a stand-alone novel; however, Silk or Sugar is the only one of the three that is confined to one time period—1803 of the Napoleonic era.
Q: During your research for your historical novels, how do you blend fact and fiction?
A: Most of my characters are fictional, but the challenges they face are represented with as much historical accuracy as possible, as are actual historical individuals who are included for historic context.
Q: Would you like to have lived during the historical periods you write about?
A: I write about historical periods of epic proportions because I question how I would respond in such a situation. With challenge comes opportunity. During those times the individual is challenged to confront their strengths and weaknesses, to draw on latent talents and strengths they might not know they possess.
Q: For family and friends who know you well, would they recognize you as any of the fictional personalities in your books?
A: I doubt they would, although I’m sure some of my personality traits are expressed. On the other hand, I pen-in many of the traits that I admire, but do not possess. I’m more able to control their response to challenges than I can for myself.
Q: Some authors create storyboards during the development process. Others like to put on period music to get them into the mindsets of their characters and the atmosphere of their settings. Your own method—the design of 1:12 scale models—reminds me of how I use set design to envision backdrops for my stage plays. How did you come up with this delightfully creative tool for visualization? (and please describe an example for us of how and why a mini diorama works for you)
A: I studied interior design and enjoy decorating my own home in the French style. Miniatures allow me to continue working on design projects, and to immerse myself in the environment of my characters. While working on various chapters of Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I designed the heroine’s small Paris apartment kitchen area, which served a dual purpose as her resistance work space where she typed coded messages for resistance leaders; the hero’s office in the family’s eighteenth century Parisian mansion while he served the Free French movement, and the alcove of the great hall in the family chateau in the Loire Valley in which the family held Christmas celebrations for the surrounding community. I have a collection of French music CDs to put me on location.
Q: Would you describe yourself as a plotter or a pantser? (and why does this method work effectively for you)
A: I’m a panstser. Before I begin a new novel, I have a general idea of the main characters and their roles in the story, but do not have more than a topics outline. I know where the story is going without a roadmap as to how to get there. I remain open during the writing to allow my characters to direct me. I keep a note pad with me to capture promptings from my muse at any time of the day or night. With Mon Amour, Friend or Foe, I didn’t know how the story would end until the last few chapters, which contrasts with my experiences with Silk or Sugar and Return to Chateau Fleury.
Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m a researcher at heart, and as such completed a hypnotherapy course and became a certified hypnotherapist. I kept that status for two years. I didn’t go into the business, but did regressions for family and friends.
Q: Like many of your fellow authors, you chose to go the route of self-publishing. Multiple books later, what did you learn about the DIY route that you didn’t know when you began?
A: I was fortunate to belong to a critique group that included members of multiple book publications. Some had worked with traditional publishers and shared their experiences with me before I had published my first book. I had gone the way of entering Romance Writers of America sponsored contests and noted that much time could be spent that way. I evaluated the lengthy process of seeking a traditional publisher and the decrease in assistance they provided their authors. I prefer the control I have when self-publishing. Now that I have three books, I confess I must do a better job promoting them.
Q: What are you doing to promote the French Connection series? In your view, which avenues have been the most successful for you?
A: So far, I have found Facebook ads and author’s page, my blog on my website, and book fairs and festivals work well. I’m ready to begin adding to my promotional efforts.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m beginning research for Lucia’s Poppy Fields, book 4 of the French Connection series, a novel about the Great War and the Spanish Flu Pandemic.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Visit me on Facebook or or on my website: Https://www.EPye.com