April 7, 2014

Writing Tip: Writing Process Blog Tour

Part of what's so fun about being a member of the writing community in Chicago - or anywhere - is this kind of thing: someone starting something like this Writing Process Blog Tour and inviting other writers to take part. My friend Patty McNair, the incredibly talented writer and author of The Temple of Air invited me to join in.
This blog tour is sort of like a chain letter - you post something, then ask friends to post something and so on and so on. And you all link to each other.
It's fun for us, and readers have a chance to hear from all sorts of authors talking about this business of writing.
So, we're all answering the same four questions and here's how Patty did it.  Now here's mine:

1. What am I working on? 
I am working on my second novel, The Ones You Left Behind. My first book took me eight years to complete and so far, I've been working on this one for about two and a half years. Presently, I'm reworking it with suggestions from my agent. I'm also part of two critique groups now, so am getting lots of support and feedback this time around, something I didn't have with the first book.
Even with all of that, there's no easy way to do this business of writing a novel.
It's beyond me how some authors come up with a book every couple of years.

2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?
What sets my work apart is my voice, who I am as a person and what that brings to my work. Another important element, to me, is the humor within my stories. My books are not comedies, they are about real-life people dealing with real-life situations, and acknowledging that even through tragedy there is humor in life.
To my mind, if we cannot find the humor in life we will be lost.

3. Why do I write what I do?
I like writing about women who readers recognize and relate to, who gain strength through adversity, and do it on their own, without depending on a man. Most of my friends are very strong women but I know a few women who would be hard-pressed to operate without a man as the focal point in their life. Not that I judge those relationships, whatever works is my philosophy - I just think we're all better off if we can find our strength within ourselves, so that's who I write about.

4. How does your writing process work?
It has changed from the first book to this one. First time around I wrote and edited, wrote and edited. This time I decided to do it differently, and write from beginning to end. It was difficult for me at first because I'm a serial editor, but when I got used to it I found that it helped, in that I was able to meet all the characters and find out where the story was going, and then go back and fix the things that didn't help me get there.
All of this sounds like I just write and write and write. The truth of it is I spend a lot of time thinking about my story, staring at my screen, not sure how to move the story along or what needs to happen. But thinking is part of the process, so I try not to feel like a slug when nothing's working.
My writing process seems to evolve as I evolve as a writer. I've learned to go with the flow.

So, next in line are the authors I've chosen. Check them out - they're wonderful writers with amazing books:

Renee Rosen: As clichéd as it sounds, Renée is a former advertising copywriter who always had a novel in her desk drawer. When she saw the chance to make the leap from writing ad copy to fiction, she jumped at it. A confirmed history and book nerd, Renée loves all things old, all things Chicago and all things written. Find Renee here.

Renee James: Renee James is a writer, editor, wilderness canoeist, transgender activist and, thanks mainly to a passion for novels with a plot, a failed English major. Her self-published first novel, Coming Out Can Be Murder, won several awards and has been republished by Riverdale/Magnus Books in 2014 as Transition to Murder. Her website is www.reneejamesauthor.com.

April 1, 2014

Living in Paris for Three Weeks in April 2014

I've always had a fantasy of living in Paris for a period of time, so for my big b'day coming up (think Medicare), I gave myself a trip, found an apartment and am living here, in the 15th arrondissement, for three weeks.

I arrived on Friday, March 28th and managed to stay awake until 10 at night, even tho I didn't sleep much on the plane, although everyone around me did (right - little babies in their incubators).

I had dinner at Au Petit Sud Ouest, a lovely restaurant near the Eiffel Tower, which is about a mile from where I'm staying. It's famous for the foie gras and Bordeaux, so of course I had to have both ,just for research, of course. They provide toasters on the table so you can toast your own bread and then spread your foie gras. Quite delicious.

Saturday, March 31, 2014:
Did a 3 mile run in the a.m. - a great way to explore the area. Then went to the Opera area (by Metro, of course) where I listened to a wonderful street performer, and then wandered around. Then went to the Marais. By that time I was exhausted so came back to my 'hood and  had dinner at a little brasserie near my apartment where the bartenders stood four feet from me smoking cigarettes. (Okay, I'm done complaining about the smoking. Maybe.)  

Sunday, March 30, 2014:  France switched to daylight saving time last night so I slept till 8 (late for me), then messed around all morning. I have to figure out where to get coffee in the a.m. They don't have a coffee maker here in the apartment, not that I can find anyway. Not a big thing but it would be nice.Took Metro to the Petit Palais (didn't go in - figure I'll do that during the week when it's less crowded) and strolled the Champs Elysees and had a late lunch of a glass of wine and salade nicoise, sitting outside which was lovely except for the woman who sat next to me and lit up cigarette after cigarette (smoking outside is allowed).  Many of the stores are closed today in my neighborhood, a lot of the restaurants too, so I found a grocery store and got some wine and cheese and sausage and a baguette, so that was my dinner. Oh, and some chocolate. Perfect, right?
I came without a guidebook or a map (what's up with that?) and when I wander around I wonder what the hell I'm looking at. Then yesterday I see that the apartment owners have left a whole basket of maps and books and Metro guides... and a whole binder of hints about the house and the neighborhood and things to do, etc. It's fabulous!

Monday, March 31, 2014

Went for a run this morning in a new direction and got completely lost. It seems like it'd be so easy to get around but then there are these little forks in the road and huge roundabouts, and everything goes off at odd angles and the streets change names every 50 yards. But people were very nice helping me find my way back. Instead of being gone 1/2 an hour I was out for more than an hour. Well, something's got to help offset the wine, right? Got a coffee from McDonald's on the way back, then got dressed and took my computer and wrote at an outdoor cafe.

Then went to Bon Marche - walked there, about 3 miles. Wandered around the Montparnasse area, which is fabulous, and then took the train home (enough exercise for the day!)

I'd bought some food at La Grande Epicerie at Bon Marche, so came home and made dinner. Spent the evening answering emails, posting on FB, writing this blog, working on my writing. 
What a life!

Hey, just in case you think I'm living in the lap of luxury in my Paris apartment here's a picture of the refrigerator. Well, good that red wine and chocolate don't need refrigeration, right?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

I wrote in the a.m. at my outdoor café. Then went to the Musee D’Orsay. Whew! Hours and hours in this, one of my most favorite museums, and one of the world’s most beautiful buildings.
After enjoying the Impressionists I wanted to take the bus to my next stop and met a beautiful young French woman named Laurine Rambaldi, who helped me find the bus stop, and the correct bus - we rode together, and made plans for next week. Does this dispel what you've heard about how aloof and rude the French are?
After walking all over the Musee D'Orsay I walked some more, all over hell, actually, looking for an ice cream place that several people had told me about and finally found it near Notre Dame. Turns out I had already been by it a couple days ago and didn't know it. My rating on the ice cream at Berthillon: yum! 
By this time it was after 6 and I hadn’t had dinner (unless you count the ice cream). I was trying to find Shakespeare and Company, a famous book store, but ran out of steam and came home. Had some wine and finished the pasta I’d gotten at The Grand Patisserie at Bon Marche yesterday. 
An exhausting day! 
What a life.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014 My birthday!

I had the best birthday! First, the weather was absolutely perfect. 67-68, sunny...oh wait...that's what it's been the whole time I've been here.
I ran in the a.m. (have figured out the perfect 3-mile loop), then got some McDonald's coffee to bring home (they don't really do take-out coffee very much here) and enjoyed it with my real b'day breakfast of a baguette and foie gras. See that healthy stuff in the background, behind the baguette in that picture? I didn't eat that.

After I worked on my book, did Facebook and wrote my blog, I went to the George V Hotel for lunch, an elegant place I've been each time I've been in Paris. For birthday lunch I had a Chardonnay, steak tartar and frites and then they brought me a little b'day cake with a candle. 
It's so beautiful there. The waitress asked me if I wanted still water or sparkling and I asked for still. When I got the bill I saw they charged me 12 euros for that. 
George V,  can't you afford to give a person some water?
Came home, took a nap (!), then got dressed to go to the Moulin Rouge for dinner and the show, which was FABULOUS.
It can be challenging traveling solo - the thing I realize (now that I've brought everything in my closet) is that I could've brought three outfits and just worn them over and over. Who would know?
Anyway, am making friends and have plans this coming week. At Moulin Rouge I met three American women who are on holiday from Abu Dhabi where they are teaching. Can you imagine doing that? Me either.
An interesting side-note about the show at Moulin Roughe: many of the showgirls were topless, or semi-topless, at different points in the show, some more than others, and there wasn't an implant in the bunch. And there were many of them. They were mostly very small chested, and lovely. If this was a show in the U.S. there probably wouldn't have been a natural chest in the lot.

Thursday, April 3, 2014:

Today was a lazy day. Not that you need to know this, but I had a little stomach issue (too much rich food yesterday, perhaps?) so after my run and morning coffee, I was in until about 5p, writing, Facebooking, blogging. Then I said to myself, "Get your ass out of here...you're in PARIS!!!" So, I walked to the Luxembourg Gardens (about 3 miles), stopped at the Grand Patisserie at Bon Marche to get something for dinner, and Metro'd home. 
That's one of the nice things about being here for so long - I don't feel pressured to fit it all in in just a few days. I still have two weeks to go.

This day-by-day travelogue takes a lot of time and, truthfully, it makes me feel so pressured to be interesting and entertaining. Do I really need that kind of pressure on vacation? Problem is, I can't figure out a way to do it without forgetting things I don't want to forget. So, I'll quit bitching and just continue, as best I can, posting pictures and comments.
What I've decided (right now, but this could change) about traveling for an extended period of time is it's hard to make this feel like real life. I'm working (sort of) on my book, but not with a place to go every day, and no one counting on me to show up. At first it was lovely and relaxing. Now, after more than a week, I'm feeling a little at loose ends, and a little isolated. Mostly, I suppose, because I have no one to talk to on a daily basis. My conversations in French are limited. What I say to people (in French) is, "I speak a little French, but I speak better than I understand. It's a problem." Doesn't seem to be a problem for them. They just continue talking and only stop when they see the blank look in my eyes. I usually get about half of what they're telling me.
Also,  every time I wander out, walking, I get hopelessly lost, and spend hours trying to find my way back home. The streets change names every 50 yards and there are roundabouts everywhere and they go off in odd directions with six or eight streets converging and you never know what the hell street to follow. If you print out directions there are 50 street names to go 3 miles, and you might be going straight the whole way. 
If I take Metro somewhere I'm fine, mostly, but walking is taking some major planning.

On Friday, April 4th I went to the Musee Gallieria to see the exhibit Papier Glacé, a photographic exhibit of a century of fashion from Conde Nast (Vogue), which I loved.

Saturday, April 5 - After my morning run I went for coffee and to work for a while, then in the afternoon I walked over to the Eiffel Tower, which was jammed with people - many of whom, I suspect, were here for the marathon. Then I got lost on the way home (this is my life in Paris) and stumbled on a street fair/market along Rue du Commerce, where there are many stores, including H&M and Zara.
Had dinner with Olga Jacobs who is a friend of a friend of my cousin. Complicated, right? But so lovely that we connected and had dinner together at a beautiful restaurant off the Champs Elysees named Villa Spicy, which is odd because it doesn't serve particularly spicy food. I had a sampler of tartars, among other delicious things, which were all fabulous.

Sunday, April 6 - Went to watch the Paris marathon, had lunch at an outdoor cafe, wandered through the Rue de Grenelle market, and didn't get lost today because I bought a data package from Verizon so now I have Google maps. Oh, thank god.

Monday, April 7 - I started with my usual routine: went for a run, then got my McDonald's coffee (which is 1.4 euros, as opposed to about 3 euros in a cafe), then showered, dressed and went to sit in a cafe to write (and drink my 3 euro coffee - which they don't refill). It's good to have a plan, right?
Then went to the Centre Pompidou museum to see the photographs of Henri Cartier-Bresson, and other contemporary art.
Here's the good thing about traveling alone: you can spend as much time as you want in a museum. You're probably thinking, "Oh god, she's one of those people who spends an entire day, reading everything, doing the audio tour." Not exactly. My attention span tops out at about two hours, then I'm done. Then I need French onion soup and a glass of wine.
I am on a quest for the best French onion soup in Paris. This (right), at a place on the square across from the Pompidou, was not it. You can see that didn't stop me from eating it. But yesterday's was better.

For dinner I met the delightful Diane Wigger, a friend of a friend of a friend (!), who introduced me to the lovely restaurant, La Rotisserie en Face, in the St. Germain des Pres area. We're both Chicagoans who love Paris and who are both marathon runners. And who both love good food/wine. Perfect! Diane is living my dream - she's living in Paris for an entire year. Check out her Facebook page, where she's doing a feature called My Year of French Men. Now, why didn't I think of that?

Tuesday, April 8: Continuing my quest for the best French onion soup, I took the Metro to the Les Halles stop which lets you off at, surprise! Les Halles, an enormous underground shopping mall which is like The Mall of America on steroids.  
But travel up out of the labyrinth and on the street is a beautiful area, and that's where I found Au Pied de Cochon (translation: the pig's leg), reputedly the restaurant where Julia Child found the best French onion soup. It was delicious. The best I've had here? Maybe not. I'm still searching. 
So, I wrote and ate my soup, and drank my wine and then I got this wonderful little dessert sampler (doesn't everyone need a boatload of sugar in the middle of the day?). Note the little meringue pig on the plate.
Walked to the Louvre. Got lost. WTF is with Google maps? It's exhausting to be lost. I always know I'll find my way back but until I finally discover which way to go it's stressful.  
Walked around the Louvre because it's so beautiful but didn't go in because I've been there a couple of times before and I want to do new things on this trip.
I'm feeling so frustrated by getting lost every day. At first it was fun and adventuresome, then it got aggravating. And because I'm traveling alone there's no one to bounce things off of or help figure out where we are. I'm beginning to think staying for three weeks was not the best idea. 
I checked with the airline to see if I could go home a little early and because I'm traveling on miles I could. But when it came time to book it I decided to wait a bit. Instead I booked a food walking tour for tomorrow. Maybe a little structure, a guide, being with a group will help.

Wednesday, April 9: Eating my way through the Marais on a food walking tour with a company called Paris by Mouth 

About this neighborhood: Throughout its long history, the Marais has been home to successive waves of aristocrats, immigrants, artists, and hipsters. The northern section of this quarter is now exploding with art galleries, independent fashion boutiques, and cool new eateries. 
What we'll taste: We'll start the day with buttery croissants and crisp baguettes from an award-winning baker, then visit a family-run fromagerie where they age their own small-production cheeses. We'll select a range of different cheeses to taste, then add to our basket by picking up some delectablesaucisson from a pig-obsessed charcutier. We'll be stopping at a quirky cave à vins to sample and taste all of these with French wine. After strolling through the oldest covered market in the city, we'll wind our way to a charming sixth-generation spice shop that supplies some of the city's best chefs before finishing with a blow-out sweets tasting at one of our favorite chocolatier in Paris (and therefore the world). 

Really fun, and just what I needed. Great to be with an English-speaking guide. All the other people on the tour had run the Paris marathon, so we had that in common (not that I ran this one but I've run others).

The Australians told me about a biking tour in Versailles, so when I got home I booked that too!
Fun day!

Later, I went to a movie - saw John Turturro's Fading Gigolo. Loved it,. and loved that I found some movie theaters near me. Yay! 

Stay tuned for the rest of the trip.