Tag Archives: Paris

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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Filed under The rest of my life

Read-Through Thursday: Anna and the French Kiss

This is a series wherein I will discuss whatever book I’m reading or have just finished.  Feel free to post in the comments what you’re reading or your own thoughts about the books I discuss.

3/10/11:  Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins

Oh, Paris, how I love thee, let me count the ways.  This was a no-brainer choice for me.  I love being reminded of my adventures and fun times in Paris and this book certainly did that.

Anna’s father makes her attend a boarding school in Paris for her senior year of high school.  She’s not happy about leaving her friends and family in Atlanta to go to school in a place she’s never been and in a language she doesn’t know.  She makes friends quickly, however, and meets the beautiful Etienne St. Clair.

This book brought up so many memories for me.  Getting my picutre taken in the Galerie des Chimeres atop Notre Dame.  Walking around the Latin Quarter and nearly getting hit by a bus (oh, fun times, fun times), which made a cute gendarme shake his head at me while he tried to hide a smile.  Getting crepes from a street-side creperie.  Wandering around Pere Lachaise cemetery to find the tombs of Jim Morrison (of course) and Oscar Wilde and Chopin.  Macarons.  Oh la la, les macarons.

Anna is a well-rounded character.  She is confused about boys, she loves movies (okay, that’s an understatement), she seems both proud and embarrassed by her father’s accomplishments, she is a good friend, except when she isn’t, she does things she shouldn’t because it makes sense at the time, and does things she should because she’s a good person.  Sounds like me, except for the movies.  Sounds like lots of teens, in fact.

Therein lies the beauty of this novel.  While not everyone has been as lucky as Anna or me and gets to spend time in the beautiful Paree, anyone can relate to the relationship struggles, the desire to fit in, the desire for a boy – for good or bad – and learning about oneself.

Where do you wish you could have had a young romance?

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Writing Mistakes (in Paris)

Revising the Sophie manuscript has brought up some of my many memories of Paris.

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.

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 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 plan to parent that way, and I don’t laugh at my critique partners, but there is value in that 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.

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Filed under The rest of my life, writing

Writing from the Womb

I read a post recently on agent Rachelle Gardner’s blog about not saying in a query how long you’ve been writing unless it’s relevant. Apparently, some people like to include that they’ve been writing since birth, thinking that will impress an agent, or that it serves as valid publishing experience. I am not such a prodigy. I don’t remember birth. In fact, like most people, I don’t remember much of the first 4 years of my life.

However, I remember writing a mystery story in 7th grade. It took place on a cruise ship and was influenced by Nancy Drew, Cherry Ames and Agatha Christie. A friend read my first 12 pages, hand-written of course, and told me it was “vivid”. I lost steam after that.

Next, I wrote a song on the piano. I think that was in 9th grade. Oh, let me clarify – I wrote lyrics and a melody. My brother can still sing it more than twenty years later:

I’ve worked hard the past few years,
Now it’s gonna pay off.
Hard work, persistence and talent
Are all I need,
To go to the top… (la la la la la)

Here I go,
I’m on my way,
Not gonna let anything stand in my way.
I’m goin’ all the way
To the top.
Gonna be number one
When I go
To the top.

Not surprisingly, my career as a songwriter was short-lived.

In high school I took a creative writing class, wrote poetry, and even entered a contest (got an Honorable Mention!). I also lazed around a lot on the hammock strung between two huge trees, and sang to myself in English and French, while contemplating the big issues in life. Crushes, avoiding helping my dad in the garden, friends, where do people go when they die, how annoying my little brother was…

In college I took a course on reading and writing short stories. I wrote three short stories and had them critiqued by the class. We then revised our stories and had a private conference with the professor. This definitely prepared me for my life as a writer today. Critique groups, conferences, consultations with editors and agents.

I started writing a novel in graduate school (I have a Master’s in International Relations), influenced by my year as a student in Paris. Unfortunately, my computer kept crashing in the middle of writing papers. So my father replaced the mother board. Bye-bye novel. That experience taught me to always have a back-up.

Now here I am, all this time later, four manuscripts under my belt, the fifth underway. Querying agents, attending conferences, critiquing and being critiqued. Most of this information won’t end up in a query letter, but it has made me who I am today.

Maybe I should revisit that novel set in Paris…

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