Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Two Americans in Paris: Writing about the Good Life

Paris, Rue des Martyrs, by Adria J. Cimino

When I first saw Paris, Rue des Martyrs, I was intrigued. When I visited Adria's blog and learned more about her, I was downright excited. It was like looking in a mirror! We were both American writers living in Paris, married with one kid. Adria's writing style spoke to me - she was nice and friendly but you could tell she'd had her share of challenging experiences living in Paris. As one does.

I contacted her right away, hoping we could commiserate about life in Paris while also chatting about the good stuff. Our books are different - hers is a novel and mine is a memoir - but they both take place in Paris and capture the essence (at least we think so!) of what it's like to live in this glorious, frustrating, amazing city.

We're similar, yet different. We both say "to-may-to" (we are American after all and wouldn't be caught dead saying "to-mah-to"). We live in different parts of town.

Want to know more? Grab a croissant and café au lait, pull up a chair, and check out our joint interview, a comparison and contrast of two American authors living in Paris.

So, how long have you enjoyed/endured living in Paris?

Adria: As of this summer, it will be 12 years! And pretty much the whole time in the same neighborhood, so when I go to the bakery or café, they know me. It's kind of like living in a tiny village!

Vicki: This summer it will be 9 years. When I initially hopped the pond, I only planned to stay for 3 months. Despite all the frustrations with paperwork and rude taxi drivers, I must have thought it was worth it to stay since I'm still here!

Did you meet your husband before or after moving to France?

Adria: I met him in France a few years earlier. Long story short: Right after college, I came to France to improve my French and stayed at the house of a friend of a friend: So I ended up staying with Didier's parents! Then he came back to Florida with me on summer vacation. We did the back and forth thing, lived in the U.S. together and then moved to Paris – not for Didier's sake, but for mine! I had always dreamed of living here.

Vicki: I met my husband - at a bar of all places - after living in France for four years. I'm glad I'd established my own life in Paris first, but I admit I might not have stayed much longer if I hadn't met him. As a former party girl, I'd had a blast in Paris. But when I was ready to settle down, I had a hard time finding that special someone to settle down with. Part of me wondered if it would be easier to return to the US and hope to meet someone there. But I guess we'll never know, since Mika came on the scene and swept me off my feet! Oh boy, I'm a full French romantic now, aren't I?

You've covered all sorts of topics in your writing. What's your favorite aspect of writing about Paris?

Adria: Paris is such a complex city, meaning it offers many ways for a writer to recreate it on the page (or on the screen of an e-reader). That's what I love the most. I can write about its beauty, and then a few pages later, write about the squalor. I haven't tackled the humor to be found as an expat living here, but Vicki has, exploring that dimension with just the right words and tone.

Vicki: I've been a blogger for years and my style is to recount my life's stories with sass. Once I moved to Paris, the stories became even more incredible as I grew more entrenched in French culture, and thus French administration, inability to wait in lines, you name it. I enjoy writing about what it's really like to live here and not sugar-coating it. That said, I usually have to edit my work a few times to remove unnecessary expletives so that I end up with a colorful piece that is still appropriate for my mom to read.

Would you ever consider crossing over to write a non-fiction (Adria) or fiction (Vicki) book?

Adria: I've written my share of short non-fiction as a journalist, and I will continue to take on free-lance assignments of the sort. But as for books, I really prefer writing fiction. Sometimes I feel like I have so many ideas, but not enough time!

Vicki: My writing angle comes from the way I describe events that happened to me. I enjoy that and am not sure I could pull off the same style in fiction. I suppose I could challenge myself by attempting a totally different type of novel, but I already have ideas for several more memoirs to keep me busy for a while, so admittedly I probably won't try it anytime soon. I'll leave that to Adria!

As a writer, you have a talent for the written word. What about when you speak? Are you able to say things as eloquently as you like or is it hard to come up with the perfect phrasing right on the spot?

Adria: I express myself much better in writing! I don't even have to think about it. The words pretty much flow forth naturally. I wish I could do the same with the spoken word… Although, I have made some progress. I'm not shy as I was as a kid. When I was about five, I would cling to my mom's legs and hide behind her!

Vicki: I'm pretty funny in person, if I do say so myself. But when it comes to frustrating situations (French bureaucracy, work meetings, or any sort of argument) I tend to get flustered and say the absolute wrong thing. Writing, on the other hand, allows you time to figure out exactly what you want to say. I admit I use email more often than the phone or in-person meetings for that very reason. It's funny because I'm actually a quite social person, but when it comes to saying things that matter (as opposed to discussing the 3 criteria for the perfect karaoke song) I often freak out.

Are you worried your kids will speak French better than you?

Adria: She already does! At three and a half, she is correcting me. And she has corrected my husband in English too! We live with a tiny linguistics dictator.

Vicki: Right now, I've got my 18-month-old son beat. He calls everyone "mama" and only says a few other words. But I'm sure in a month that will all change. Not only will he speak French better than me, he won't have my American accent when doing it. At least I'll be able to embarrass him with my accent later on. My French husband says my "petite" accent is "cute" but I can make it pretty atrocious if I want to.

Before wrapping up, what are your upcoming writing projects? How much will they relate to Paris?

Adria: I have completed two additional novels and they are currently in various stages of editing. One is set in Grasse, France and the other is set in London and New York. I will probably "return to Paris" in one of my future novels. In the meantime, I write about my adventures on my blog, Adria in Paris.

Vicki: I'm currently working on the sequel to Confessions of a Paris Party Girl, which will pick up where that book left off and will focus on pregnancy and kids and trying to survive in a tiny Parisian apartment. I have two additional books planned for the "Confessions" series, but let's just take one thing at a time for now! I also write on my blog 2-3 times per week, sharing stories about my life in Paris, parenting, the nitty gritty about being an author, and my obsession with zombies.

Connect with Adria and stay up-to-date on her life in Paris and her next books!
Adria J. Cimino

Vicki Lesage, Author