Mon Amour, Friend or Foe

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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

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Expats

ChrisPavoneLG

“The one charm of marriage,” wrote Oscar Wilde, “is that it makes a life of deception absolutely necessary for both parties.”

In author Chris Pavone’s debut novel, The Expats, there are more than a few secrets in the mix as an ex-CIA agent moves abroad with her family. Is it a fresh chance to embrace a new circle of friends and reinvent her identity…or a grim reminder that no amount of time or distance can keep the past from catching up and demanding dark debts be paid in full?

Interviewer: Christina Hamlett

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Q: Your journey as a writer has taken an intriguing path. Tell us how your academic background in government and the skill sets required to be a cookbook editor for Clarkson Potter prepared you for the challenge of cooking up an espionage thriller novel.

A: The main useful thing I learned at Cornell was how to read critically. And that’s also what being an editor is, fundamentally, in any genre—whether for cookbooks or all the other types of books I edited. And I think that’s a large part of what being an author is too: critically reading your own work, deciding what should be deleted, what should be added, what should be better.

Q: Given your expertise as an editor, did you trust your judgment to edit the book yourself or was this task handed over to someone else?

A: I did indeed edit the hell out of myself, over and over and over. But I’m also convinced that every single book benefits from as much editing by other people as an author can stomach. I was lucky enough to find skilled people who were willing to help me with the manuscript, and I was reasonable enough to listen to what they had to say. Which is why editing and revising The Expats took twice as long as the original writing.

Q: The overarching theme of your book is that of reinvention. What do you see as the correlation between redefining oneself within the “ordinary” context of marriage and the “extraordinary” nature of literally being a stranger in a strange land?

A: I wanted The Expats to be a book that could be enjoyed on a few levels, so I tried to construct parallel tensions for the protagonist: her reinvention from a career to parenting, from being a dishonest person to a truthful one; the challenges of moving to the strange land of a foreign country, as well as to the even stranger land of home with little children. I hope that the book works as both an extraordinary story—about spies and arms dealers, stolen millions and long-play cons—and as a very ordinary story about the evolving relationship between two credible, relatable people.

Q: A few years ago you moved to Luxembourg for your wife’s job. In The Expats, your heroine Kate Moore does the same thing. Coincidence or…?

A: At forty years old, I left behind my home and my career and became a stay-at-home parent, abroad. The demands of moving to a new country, in a new language, were not unexpected. But I was surprisingly devastated by the loss of the self-definition I’d spent two decades constructing: I was a New York City book editor. But now I wasn’t, not anymore. I was suddenly a parent, plus a housekeeper and a cook and a cleaner and a travel agent. I collected neither paycheck nor praise, and I didn’t get much satisfaction out of most of what I did every day. And I didn’t know what I’d ever do again! I found myself surrounded by people—expat wives—who were more or less in the same position. Which is just an exaggerated form of the predicament of any woman who decides, for whatever reasons, to be at home with children. Who are you, then? And who will you become, after the children leave? That conundrum is what got me writing The Expats. That’s what I wanted the book to be about, and that’s why the protagonist is a woman.

Q: During that time when your wife was the family breadwinner, you took on the role of househusband and looking after a pair of lively four-year-old boys. Looking back, which was harder: to be the stay-at-home parent or to keep track of the multiple moving parts in a highly complex novel?

A: Definitely more difficult to be a stay-at-home parent to little kids. Now we’re back in New York City, which is much easier for me, and our twins are nine—reasonable, responsible little people, the best friends I’ve ever had, my most enjoyable company. When I’m an old man, I’m sure that I’ll look back on this experience as the most worthwhile thing I ever did. But a half-decade ago, in the cold lonely damp of northern Europe, it didn’t look that way.

Q: So who’s doing the cooking, cleaning and laundry now that you’re settled back in New York?

A: Besides the Luxembourg adventure and college, I’ve lived in New York City my whole life. One of the things I really love about this city is that there’s always someone willing to cook delicious food and deliver it to your home within twenty minutes, for very little money, at any time; I really love ordering in. So now I cook when I want to, because I enjoy cooking, and not because I have to. I also do a lot less cleaning and laundry.

Q: How much research was involved insofar as the weaponry, gadgetry, expatriate mindsets, cyber theft, and covert operations to make the plot of The Expats ring true?

A: My computer skills are limited to typing in a word-processing program, and even with that I don’t know how to use 99 percent of the functions. So I needed to read up on cybercrime; I also read a few CIA memoirs. But in the end almost none of that research-driven material made it into the book; a sentence here and there, a few stray paragraphs. I wanted The Expats to be about characters, not stuff; I wanted it to be based on my experiences, not the lives of others that I’d gleaned from their books. If The Expats rings true, I think it’s because the characters and their motivations are credible and relatable, not because I researched firearms.

Q: Were you thinking cinematically as you penned the plot and, if so, which actors were you envisioning in the key roles?

A: Yes, I wanted readers to be able to see—and sometimes feel, smell, taste, hear—the scenes. I was very focused on writing a sensuous book, and I had a clear vision for every section. And yes, I do know what a lot of the characters look like. But those faces don’t correspond to real people, actors or not. They’re just faces in my imagination.

Q: The novel utilizes multiple flashbacks within flashbacks. What was your methodology for managing these jumps and intercuts between past and present?

A: While writing I always have two documents open: the manuscript itself, and the outline. I was constantly revising the outline—moving scenes and plot revelations—but I was never ignoring it. The same is true for my next book, The Accident, which also doesn’t have a plot that anyone would call simple.

Q: The Expats was an international bestseller, and won the Edgar Award for best first novel, and is being translated into nearly twenty languages and developed for film. There must be pressure to continue Kate Moore’s story with a sequel, or as a series. Why or why not do you think this would work?

A: I can imagine a lot more of Kate’s story, and I fully intend to write about her again in the future. But I know myself, and my finite capacity to enjoy (or endure) the same experience repeatedly, so I’m wary of getting handcuffed into a job that I’ll find unsatisfying. So although Kate Moore makes a cameo appearance in The Accident, she’s a very minor character. The cast—and the locales—are almost entirely new. (Though there is a very minor character in The Expats who became a major character in The Accident.)

Q: How did you go about finding a publisher?

A: First I found an agent, which I did by asking someone I’ve known for two decades if he’d be willing to take a look at my manuscript. He was. We worked on the manuscript for a few months before we agreed it was ready, then he submitted it to publishers. Within a few days we had a preemptive offer from Crown, which is part of the Random House conglomerate, where I’d worked for ten years. This is not a typical path for a first-time novelist, and certainly not the most direct. If anyone wants to try this method, be forewarned that you have to start the process twenty years before you write your first book.

Q: Now that you’re on the other side of the publishing desk, so to speak, what’s your best advice to others who are just starting out on their writing careers?

A: Fully commit. I think any career related to the written word—in magazines or newspapers, as a teacher or editor or agent—will not only make you a better writer, but will also produce direct and meaningful connections to the publishing world, and sooner or later can put you in the path of a book contract. Unfortunately, none of these fields pays well. You can have a career that affords you a fancy car, or one that generates a book contract, but probably not both.

Q: Where is your favorite place to write and your best time to be creative?

A: I write in two places: one is a private members’ club, which has a busy hubbub about it, and a swimming pool on the roof, and wait staff refilling a bottomless cup of coffee, and restaurants, and sometimes famous people, and a whiff of glamour. It’s a good place to get inspired, but not a great place to concentrate on nitty-gritty writing. The other is a no-nonsense writers’ room, small cubbies and white-noise machines, no distractions. Sometimes I need one of these environments, sometimes the other. But at either place, I arrive every morning at nine, after dropping the kids at school, and I work until I get hungry.

Q: What would readers be the most surprised to learn about you?

A: In the 2002 edition of The New American Bartender’s Guide, there’s a drink called the Chris Pavone Martini, invented by (and, obviously, named for) me.

Q: What’s next on your plate?

A: The Accident goes on sale in March 2014, a few months from now. I finished working on that book over the summer, and then I started writing my third, but I’m not talking about it yet.

Q: Anything else you’d like readers to know?

A: I can be reached at chris@chrispavone.com. I think I’ve answered every single email I’ve received from readers, because I love to.