15 February 2012

“Chérie, I must say that your people place way too much emphasis on affairs.” 

These words are uttered by a male French character in my upcoming collection of short stories called Railway Confessions. I think his response generally encapsulates well what the French, in particular, may think about Americans when it comes to at least one of the reasons highlighted in my book, 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover. 

To recap 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover is my second book, and it’s a collection containing a novella and two short stories focusing on love and lost. American Ellery Roulet and her French husband, Julien, from my first book, Encounters in Paris, return— this time involved in an emotionally-charged love triangle, and along with two other couples, explore how different types of love relationships splinter due to abuse,ambivalencedeceptioncheating and even death

It’s a very realistic collection. In addition to finding inspiration in Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways to Leave a Lover,” other scandals including that of former South Carolina governor Mark Sanford and former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK) were influential . But also on the other side of the spectrum, couples like Bill and Camille Cosby who have been married for over 45 years or the late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward who were also married well over 40 years had an effect on the stories created as well. However, the most revealing insight came after interviewing ordinary people (both French and American) who were just trying to make it through their marriages each day. I came to realize that maintaining relationships is hard and downright complicated. 

Now cheating is an uneasy subject to be sure; fraught with complexity, but it is also one topic that I do like to discuss because it generates such a strong reaction among readers. It also perfectly illustrates some vast differences between French and American cultures. 

About five years ago American journalist and Parisian resident Pamela Druckerman wrote an intriguing book called Lust in Translation where she examined how cheating in general was viewed around the world. A lot of what she wrote about French culture and their reactions to infidelity was basically correct. Both the French and Americans cheat at relatively the same rate but how each culture deals with the problem itself is quite different. While Americans may view infidelity as both a personal and spiritual assault, the French tend to replace morality with rationality. For instance, an American may look at the situation of infidelity and conclude, “my spouse cheated and now my marriage and life are over.” 

Conversely, a French person may look at the same circumstances and come to a different conclusion: “my spouse cheated, but my marriage may not be over and my life certainly isn’t.” I think the French often view infidelity as an inevitable occurrence – especially over a long life span of a relationship). Whereas an American woman may confront her spouse, the French woman, by contrast, may not. She may not want to jeopardize her quality of life or status. Keeping quiet could give her a chance to win her husband back or select her moment and means of retaliation. 

Whether one is discussing cheating or any of the other four reasons, the perspectives are roughly the same: a person will leave (either literally or figuratively) a relationship if it becomes impossible to stay. Americans may find any one of these transgressions grounds for leaving a relationship. However, as one French friend revealed, priority is placed upon the deed, so deception would be at the top of their list of transgressions while cheating would be considered the least offensive act of all. 

Maybe the interview that I conducted with an elderly French woman explains it all. She told me that in the 60 years that they had been married, she and her husband had been through everything together and had weathered the storms. She said ‘When you get as old as we are and death is near, you are not thinking about who cheated on whom. It’s more about did you really enjoy one another while you still had the chance. Everything else is irrelevant.’ The bottom line here is this. A person can leave a relationship any time they want but that doesn’t make the decision to do so any easier. Honestly at the end of the day, people can say hypothetically what they would or wouldn’t do if presented with any of these five reasons, but no one really knows what path they would take until it happens to them. 

Posted on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 by Unknown

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12 February 2012

As St. Valentine’s Day approaches, what better time is there to talk about love, right?  

I’m not talking about just any kind of love:  love between a man and a woman, a woman and her child or even a man and his dog.  Instead, I’m talking about a love that is a lot harder for non-writers to understand.  It’s a romance that can only be shared between author and his/her character.  

Take for example, my character, Julien Roulet.  I know him better than anyone and because of this, I am utterly and completely in love with him.  Julien looks and acts nothing like my own husband in real life and that’s part of the fun.  However, he is a rough composite of all of the French men that I have known over the last five years while living and working Paris.  He is an elusive lover; distant and slightly mysterious.  Tall and slim with brown hair and sparkling green eyes, he’s handsome, intelligent, creative, quick witted and tad bit irreverent.  A French man who refuses to pronounce the letter “h” when speaking in English, he’s also married and a devoted family man.  He’s far from perfect though – an insecure, rakish, adulterer in fact.  And yet at the same time, he’s a good guy who is still deeply in love with his wife. Unfortunately, he now finds himself in an impossible situation and saving him remains my toughest challenge.  Oh, the complexity! 

So exactly when do we find time to rendezvous, you ask?  It usually starts in my dreams at night.  His thoughts come to me in hushed tones,  preventing  me from getting a good night’s sleep.  When he signals to me that he needs to talk urgently, I wake up, crack open my laptop and type the sweet words he needs to convey .  Our relationship heightens as we communicate – author to character via the dialogue.  He tells me everything that people around him need to know and I happily dictate his demands.  Then, like all other love affairs, the relationship fizzles once there is nothing left to write.

As authors we experience a whole host of emotions while creating characters.  Just like in real life, we take up their hobbies, research their professions, record their fickle likes and dislikes, all in an attempt to better understand them.  When all is going well between us, we can’t wait to visit them in their imaginary world each day.   One minute we’re laughing at all of their jokes and the things that they do.  And the next, we’re infuriated and downright embarrassed by their behavior.  We know when they’re happy, sad, or frustrated.  When they long for another character, sometimes we get jealous.  When they abandon us because they yearn for independence and space,  we become fearful because we never know which direction they will take our story.  Finally, we’re downright depressed when we have to leave them because their story has come to an end. 

The point to all of this is this.  Creating characters for which there is genuine affection is what makes writing fun and rewarding. Whenever we are able to achieve that level of love for our character, our readers are the true beneficiaries.  If we’re really lucky, the reader will fall in love with the character as well.  And the best part for me?  Whenever I want to spend time with the number one man in my fictional world, I have my husband’s blessing.  If you ask me, this is the best type of ménage à trois there is. 

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!  And remember if you can’t spend the day with a loved one, then fall in love with a good book!  

Posted on Sunday, February 12, 2012 by Unknown

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