by Mary Jo
Two months ago we were fortunate to have Eloisa James visit to discuss her latest historical romance, The Duke is Mine. (Incidentally, her previous title, When Beauty Tamed the Beast, is a RITA finalist for historical romance, so congratulations, Eloisa!)
Besides discussing your novel in January, Eloisa, we also touched on the subject of your memoir, Paris in Love, which has just been released. The book sounded so fascinating that all the Wenches and many of our regulars wanted to know more! Here's an excerpt.
I’m most of the way through the book, and it’s a marvelous mosaic of observations and feelings, amusing anecdotes and poignant insights, that together form a rich, in-depth picture of Eloisa’s year in Paris. But don’t just take my word for it. <G> Here’s a blurb from Elizabeth Gilbert, the author of Eat, Pray, Love:
"What a beautiful and delightful tasting menu of a book: the kids, the plump little dog, the Italian husband. Reading this memoir was like wandering through a Parisian patisserie in a dream. I absolutely loved it."
MJP: Eloisa, you seem to have the perfect, glamorous romance writer’s life. You’re a bestselling novelist, a tenured professor of Shakespeare and creative writing, you have a handsome Italian husband, two great looking kids (one of each gender), and an adorable rescue dog. So—why did you run away to Paris for a year?
EJ: I’m laughing at my laptop screen! Mary Jo, you know perfectly well that a glamorous sounding life can be its opposite, and that’s certainly the case here. Those kids, for instance? Teenagers. Enough said.
To return to your specific question, our great adventure happened after my mother died of ovarian cancer; two weeks later I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After I finished treatment for a (blessedly) early case, I was desperate for escape. We sold our house and cars, rented an apartment on the Internet, and took off. We ran away.
MJP: I love the cover of the book, which sketches a tall, elegant woman with short bright hair striding confidently down a Parisian street. In the background are a man and two children. It seems to be a family portrait of sorts, though I notice that the chubby Chihuahua seems to be getting higher billing than the family. <G>
Oddly, what immediately came to mind is the fashion style of French women. They have an impressive, put together elegance. Even riding on the Metro, I would find myself studying average women with bags of vegetables and thinking how well dressed they looked. Wonderful detailing. Is that just me, or did you find that to be the case also? If so, did you find yourself changing your own personal style? Or didn’t it need to be changed?
EJ: I spent hours and hours doing just that. A significant chunk of the book is taken up with figuring out how Frenchwomen dress; I even wrote an essay on how to achieve their flair. The year did significantly change the way I dress, but not so much in what as how. The biggest lesson I learned had to do with tailoring: unless you are a perfect size, a tuck here or there will make any garment far more flattering. In short: become friends with your local tailor!
MJP: Of course another thing France is justly known for is the food—I learned a lot about cooking by reading Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Following recipes step by step was really educational, and the results were pretty good, too. Were you a foodie when you moved to Paris? Were you one when you came home? <G> Did you experiment with new foods and cooking techniques while you were there?
EJ: I did play around with cooking in Paris. It was the first time in a long time that I had time to experiment, and I hugely enjoyed myself. (I even put some recipes in the book.) While my experiments involving French ingredients such as lavender mustard were signal failures, I ended up perfecting recipes that I already knew—mostly learned from my Italian mother-in-law.
MJP: In your previous interview here, you talked about how you wanted to capture the special moments of this family year, so you tweeted and did Facebook posts about your experiences—in other words, a real time diary. How much shaping, editing, and reflecting was involved in turning that material into a full length memoir?
EJ: Oh, it was awful. It took a solid two years, and I found it a far more difficult process than writing a novel, which actually makes sense: I didn’t know how to write a memoir, and I wrote my first novel so long ago I can hardly remember. Luckily, I had a wonderful and patient editor, Susan Kamil.
MJP: What are your favorite places that you visited in Paris or beyond?
EJ: May I turn this question on its head? I fiercely believe that our happiest memories come from daily life rather than visits to extraordinary places. My favorite memories of Paris stem from the fact that every day I would stop my daughter off at school on one side of Paris and walk home to the other side, crossing the Seine. Paris has wonderful lemony light; watching it bounce off the water and reflect gilded statues and pale marble was even better than Versailles’s majesty.
MJP: If you were to run away another year—where would you go? Paris again, or some other marvelous city?
EJ: I love Paris! But I’m not sure that running away works the second time… I doubt there will be a Moscow in Love, for example. It was a very special year, a healing year.
MJP: Any last words you’d like to share?
EJ: For those of you who are thinking, II love romance, not memoir , I just wanted to tell you that there is indeed a romance in Paris in Love! And in fact, the end of the love story I tell here is about as romantic as anything Mary Jo or I ever imagined—plus it’s true. I hope you love it!
MJP: Thanks so much for visiting us today, Eloisa! I've been thoroughly enjoying Paris in Love, and I'm sure many of our readers here will also. I was even tempted to find some lavender mustard and use it to turn a chicken purple!
Eloisa will be giving away a basket of French goodies and a copy of When Beauty Tamed the Beast to someone who comments between now and midnight Saturday. So talk to us about the book, or your experiences and/or dreams of Paris….