Monthly Archives: May 2014

Memories of Paris

I’ve had a lot going on with my day job, which isn’t going to let up until June (but there is an end!), and I have some freelance projects due. So, when something has to give, it’s the blog. I will have some posts throughout May, but I may not get to leave comments for you in return. I will be back eventually – I promise.

In June 2010 I blogged here about some of my memories of Paris. These memories were brought to the surface by the revision of one of my novels set in Paris. Since I’m currently immersed in French for most of the day, it felt right to share this again.

When I was about 18 years old, I spent the summer in Paris, working at a software company in the 8th arrondissement.  I lived in a dorm room at the American House of the Cité Universitaire in the 14th arrondissement.  Every morning I would take the RER B train into the middle of Paris and change to the metro to get to work.  Every evening I would take the bus home with my new friend Mireille.

She was the bookkeeper at the software company.  The boss didn’t know what else to do with me, so he decided I would work with Mireille, who was three years older than me and didn’t speak English.  Because of her I not only became fluent by the middle of the summer, but she made me add up long columns of numbers on an adding machine while saying each number out loud in French.  I’m awesome with French numbers.

photo credit: RocketMan, May 2012

photo credit: RocketMan, May 2012

Mireille also taught me many “rude” phrases.  She told her mother she taught me those words so I would understand them if anyone said them to me.  She didn’t want me smiling at a guy who told me to f*** off.

It was actually my reading that led to the lessons in French slang.  I had raided my uncle’s bookshelves and picked out all kinds of books in French – mostly not by French authors.  For example, I read Agatha Christie and Hemingway translations.  For Whom the Bell Tolls was quite challenging.  And many words I read I couldn’t find in my French-English dictionary.  So I’d bring them to Mireille.  Who would laugh.  Then she’d explain.

She would also laugh anytime I made a mistake.  Like if I used the wrong French word for hair (there are different words for the hair on your head – cheveux – and the hair on your body – poils).  She would laugh hysterically, and I would get upset.  Once she wiped the tears from her eyes, she would tell me what I said wrong.

“Why can’t you just correct my mistake without making fun of me?” I asked her.

“Well, you’ll never make that mistake again, will you?” she replied, still laughing.

She had a point.  And she was right.

I don’t parent that way, and I don’t laugh at my students, but there is value in this technique.  Mistakes that have embarrassed me stick in my head and will never happen again.

Just like life in general and learning a foreign language, writing is a learning process.  I’ve made mistakes – querying a manuscript too soon, not getting enough distance from a manuscript before revising, among others – and I’ve learned from my rejections, however painful.

And I will never, ever tell someone on the Paris metro that I like her poils.

What writing mistakes have you learned from recently?

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Kwizera Inspirations: Volcanoes (Take Two)

I’ve had a lot going on with my day job, which isn’t going to let up until June (but there is an end!), and I have some freelance projects due. So, when something has to give, it’s the blog. I will have some posts throughout May, but I may not get to leave comments for you in return. I will be back eventually – I promise.

Back in 2009 I did a series of posts discussing the real-life places, people, and events that inspired scenes and characters in my YA manuscript, “Kwizera Means Hope”. Since I’m still feeling nostalgic, here’s one of them:

Volcanoes

One of the Virunga volcanoes loomed on the western horizon as I trudged up the hill from the tea plantations in the valley to the tarmac road in the weak early morning light.

The Virunga volcanoes lie at the conjunction of three central and eastern African countries:  Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire).  They are home to mountain gorillas, made famous by Dyan Fossey and the movie, Gorillas in the Mist.

The volcanoes are sometimes visible from Byumba, the town in Northern Rwanda where “Kwizera” is set.  It depends on the clouds and the sun. Strangely – unless you’re familiar with meteorology, I guess – you cannot see the volcanoes on bright, sunny days.  Only right after it has rained.

Obviously, the closer you are to the volcanoes – in Ruhengeri or Gisenyi, perhaps – the more likely you are to see them.

Unfortunately, those strange meteorological conditions mean that I don’t have a good enough picture from my days there to show you.

What kinds of things inspired the setting of one of your novels?

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