Thursday, July 31, 2014

Anyone Want To Go To France?

Here on the last day of July, I wanted to post once more for Paris in July.
So many people dream of traveling to France. One of the saddest stories I've heard about someone who wanted to travel to France was about an author, in his late 30s, early 40s, who finally had a book published. In the dedication, he wrote, "To My Wife, Who Will See Paris After All." Then two months later, his wife died. She never saw Paris.
I want to shake people and say, "What are you waiting for? Go grab your dreams, whatever they are!"
So, a blogger friend of my mine, Delana Nelson, who grabbed her dream of  moving to Aix en Provence when she was 50, has started a business to help other people who may be afraid to travel to France alone.
Travel Solo Bootcamp is designed to help people who have no one to travel with. It will help women get over the fear of traveling alone. I can't explain it very well, but I interviewed Delana and here's how she explained her new business.
Q. What is Travel Solo Bootcamp?
Travel Solo Bootcamp is a week spent in Aix en Provence which is designed to give women the opportunity to learn how to travel alone. It’s a mix of fun, support, and travel-solo assignments. Our hope is that at the end of the week, our recruits will be able to say “Yes, I’m going” when faced with that great deal for a weekend in New York City, after reading an article about a colorful sea-side town in Italy, or hearing about a fabulous beach in Croatia.  There are always hesitations about taking a trip, whether it be money or time, but we don’t want traveling alone to be part of that equation. Being able and willing to travel solo is an exhilarating freedom.

Q. How’d you get the idea to start Travel Solo Bootcamp?
My founding partner, Marcia, had the idea. She and her former boyfriend had previously done week-long painting workshops here in the region. Her clients were mostly women and by spending so much time with them, she learned about their fears of traveling alone .  Initially, when she brought up the idea of some sort of seminar,  I thought it was crazy. For me traveling alone is not a problem. But as I thought about it, I realized how many of my close friends were in the very same position. They want to travel, they’re in a financial and family position to travel, but they’re afraid of the unknown and their inexperience. These are reasonable, educated, creative women.  So I interviewed them as well as others, asking questions, researching etc., and realized there really is a need for this. So voila, this baby was born.

Q. Bootcamp sounds hard. Is it?
Here's one of Delana's promotions for her bootcamp
Ha, ha! That depends on your definition of hard. Hey, a week in the south of France can never be that hard!  I have traveled a lot and traveled alone, so for me it would not be difficult. But for some women who have either never traveled or have always been with another while traveling, something as simple as eating alone in a foreign country is something to be avoided at all costs. I can’t tell you how many people say they would prefer to eat a sandwich in their room. OMG! Eating is the best part of traveling, isn’t it? Getting on a bus or a train all by yourself and going to visit small villages can be equally difficult. One needs to get these things “under their belt” so to speak.  Once that happens, freedom begins.

Q. Is this travel experience only for women? Why?
We are marketing it to women because our research tells us there are so many women that find themselves alone by chance or by choice. It could be divorce or widowhood, perhaps they have a partner but he or she is working or not willing to travel, their children have left home….or any other number of reasons. But they do not want that to deter their dreams. We will welcome men if they would like to come. But they need to be over 6 feet tall, like to cook, and be well-mannered (oh whoops, that’s another list!)

Q. How is traveling with Travel Solo Bootcamp more advantageous that traveling alone?
We allow and expect you to do things and make your own experiences. However, as we say, “we’ve got your back”. Every recruit gets a cell phone when they arrive so they can contact us for any reason. The group meets once or twice each day for mini-seminars and support. These include coffee and croissants or aperitif, so you can see we’re not exactly your average “bootcamp”.
There are many organizations they cater to women traveling solo. But they involve group travel, or “adventure” travel, or they are simply too “nuts and granola” for many. Not everyone wants to climb a mountain or see the world by mini-bus. This allows women to dip their toes in the water before they do their swan dive.

Q. What are you most looking forward to during the bootcamps?
I love meeting the recruits; getting to know them, learning their story, and having the opportunity to “play” with them.  And this also allows me to look at my world through their eyes. As a new place, an exciting adventure, perhaps a new life. That just makes me happy.

So what are you waiting for? If you want to go to France, go!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Good Karma

By 10 this morning, I was ready to go back to bed, and this was supposed to be my day off.
Last night around 10, another teacher texted and asked if I'd substitute for his 8 a.m. class. I had no real reason not to sub, so I said yes. That meant I set my alarm for 5:30 so I could go to the gym to work out before class.
But when I got out to the car and tried to turn the key, the plastic fob that holds the key had cracked. It wouldn't turn all the way. I played with it for a few minutes trying to figure out how to turn it off or on. I got it out and went back in the house. I found some tape and wound it around the plastic. It wasn't strong enough to turn the key either.
So I grabbed the keys to the other car, knowing I'd be back in time for Spencer to drive to work at 8 too. I planned to stopped at the hardware store on my way home from the gym to have another key made.
As I raced into the parking lot at 7:20 a.m., the store was dark. I walked to the doors any way, hoping to see the store hours. The doors were locked. I walked away dejected and texted my neighbor to see if I could borrow her car. Then I heard a knocking on the window of the hardware store. The woman inside motioned me back to the door.
They didn't open until 8, but she could probably help me, she said. I showed her my broken key.
"Oh, no. The guy who does those kinds of keys doesn't come in til noon," she said.
The key has a computer chip or something, which makes it extra expensive and hard to duplicate.
"Okay," I turned back toward the door.
"Here he comes now," the woman said.
And at 7:30 in the morning, the man who wasn't supposed to work until noon came in the hardware store that didn't open until 8 and was able to make me a new key.
"Let's go try it on your car," he said.
But when I explained that I had to drive a different car, he said, "Take it home and see if it works. If it does, come back later and pay."
And that's what I did.
I ran into the house at 7:40 a.m., threw on some eyeliner, showed Spencer how to work the coffee maker and made it to campus by 8 a.m.
I paid for the $60 key on the way home, proud that I had solved my car issues without waking my husband and forcing him to take care of it.
It might have been bad luck that the car key broke, but I must have good karma because all the planets aligned to let me fix the problem.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Nice

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.
My friend Leah went on what she's calling "The Trip of a Lifetime." Her son graduated from college in May and so they decided to travel to Europe. They began their vacation in Nice then moved on to Arles before heading to Spain then Algiers.
She agreed to let me use her photos for my Dreaming of France meme.
Here's a beautiful shot of the beach.
I'm sure you can tell from this photo that Leah is an artist. I can't wait until she finishes some artwork from her trip. 
Don't you just love this reflection? 
You can see some of Leah's artwork on her Facebook page or her Etsy page. 
Thanks for playing along with Dreaming of France today. I hope you'll visit each other's pages so that you can enjoy more pieces of France. 

Kid Adventures

This has been a crazy week, and I may have 100 blog ideas a week, but didn't have time to write them. This weekend, I've had a bit of time to relax, so I'm back to share a story with you.
My 20-year-old is home from college in Florida. He started out working a restaurant job and now has switched to a landscaping job to make money this summer. He comes home tired and dirty, but he doesn't feel the need to lift weights as often.
The other evening, Spence had an opportunity to make some extra money doing something much less physical. He got to be a model in a photo shoot. That would not usually be something that he wanted to do, but the photo shoot was in the new locker room of the Ohio State football team. Spencer is a big fan of OSU football, so he was anxious to walk where some of his favorite football players practice.
Apparently, the university built a new practice facility. Yes, the amount of money spent on college sports is ridiculous.
Spencer took only two pictures on his phone and shared them with me.
He posed in front of the locker of OSU player Noah Spence. Obviously, he posed there because his name is Spencer.
The locker room leads to an indoor practice field, so Spencer took a shot of that too.
The boys got to pose in the hot tub too. They were in the pictures posing as football players for the architects who designed the new facility. So their pictures won't be in magazines, but used to promote the architectural firm.
Spencer made $40 and that wasn't bad for an evening of posing for pictures rather than manhandling mulch and weed whacking.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

First Paragraph -- Gone Girl

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
Everyone has already read Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, right?
I hadn't. I was afraid it would be too graphic, too bloody or something. I was wrong. I got captured by it and stayed up late into the night reading it, which is rare for me.
Here's the intro:
When I think of my wife, I always think of h er head. The shape of it, to begin with. The very first time I saw her, it was the back of the head I saw, and there was something lovely about it, the angles of it. Like a shiny, hard corn kernel or a riverbed fossil. She had what the Victorians would call a finely shaped head. You could imagine the skull quite easily. 
This book was a psychological thriller. And it definitely had me going in the wrong direction. It's funny that I haven't even heard many people giving away the twist in the book, which isn't at the end necessarily. The only part that felt unsatisfying to me was the end because it didn't wrap up everything. But I definitely love the mind games throughout.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Nîmes

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.
On Sunday, The Tour de France ended its stage in Nîmes, which is in the Languedoc-Roussillon department of France. To me though, it's in Provence. When my husband and I rode our bikes from Avignon to Aix en Provence, our first overnight stop was in Nîmes.
Since we rode our bicycles over the same roads that the riders from the Tour de France were riding, we were especially interested to watch.
The Tour stopped in front of the Roman coliseum, or amphitheater, that still remains in Nîmes. I don't know why we didn't get a good picture of it, but here is a post card we brought home.
We stayed in a hotel right across the street from the coliseum. It's called La Lisita and we loved looking out the window to see this amazing Roman structure. Here's a picture of me under an umbrella alongside the coliseum wall with our hotel in the background across the street. No comments on my fashion choices. Remember that it was a biking trip and we only had the clothes we could carry on our bikes.

And we went to see a number of Roman sights, including the Mason Carrée, which is a Roman temple. I think that's what this picture shows. The people in it are not us. They just got in the way of the shot.

The museums and the gardens included a lot of Roman ruins. If you get a chance, include it on your next trip.
Thanks for playing along today, and please visit each other's blogs so  you can get more snippets of France today.
I'm also joining in with Paris in July. Check it out for many good recommendations on French books, movies and lifestyle.

Musical Spectacular

I had never seen Into the Woods, the Steven Sondheim musical. So last night I was thrilled to see it with Grace performing as Cinderella.
The first act entangles a bunch of fairytales. In addition to Cinderella, there's Rapunzel and Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood. They follow the Brother's Grimm version rather than the Disney-fied version, but at the end of the first act, everyone lives happily after. A neighbor of mine went to the show Friday night and left at intermission, thinking it was over.
After the intermission, the characters return,  and they aren't quite content with their happily ever after.
The show made me laugh a lot and I thought Grace did beautifully.
I hope to record one of her songs this afternoon and include it in the post.
Here is Grace with me and Earl after the show. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Saturday Snapshot -- Word Play

Hope everyone is have a terrific weekend. It's raining here, but I can't complain about the beautiful weather we've had the past week with highs in the mid 70s. Heaven.
I thought this sign was pretty clever at our local coffee shop.

Also this weekend, my novel I See London I See France is on sale for 99 cents on Kindle. The book follows Caroline, who sells her minivan and takes her three kids to London, Scotland, Paris, and Aix en Provence, while remembering her student days in Corsica as well. It's quite a journey. Hope you'll try it.

Tonight I'm going to see Grace as Cinderella in the Steven Sondheim musical Into The Woods. I've never seen it. I'll post some pictures tomorrow. 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Escapes to France

This morning, on my drive in to work, I visited Notre Dame on Île de la Cité.
Not in person, of course, but I listened to Rick Steves' App and historic tour of Paris which starts at Notre Dame. This walking tour is meant to be taken while in Paris, but I didn't mind imagining the Rose window and the statue of St. Dennis with his head held in his hands. I'll listen to more on my way home from work.
I have the Rick Steves app on my iPhone, so I can go on it and choose stories about France (Paris) or France (Beyond Paris). you can also listen to the radio show online. Here's a link to Travel with Rick Steves.
I've listened to fun stories about "How to Eat Like a Parisian" that gave great tips on when the markets are open and told visitors how to order from la carte rather than asking for a menu.
One of the most awkward stories on the Rick Steves app is his interview with David Sedaris. Now, I love David Sedaris and his oddball experiences in France and in the United States. Rick Steves is maybe a bit too mainstream for Sedaris. But the David Sedaris interview.
interview was definitely fun. Here's a link to the
Steves even had a story called "Marrying into France" with tips on why and how to marry a Frenchman (or woman if you happen to be male). He talks about taking canal boat tours and eating cheese and Americans running gites. If you love France (surprise! I do) then you'll enjoy some of these stories.

Also, in hopes of giving you a trip to France, my novel I See London I See France is on sale for 99 cents on Kindle now through Sunday. I hope you'll give it a try.
When her husband of a dozen years walks out in a huff, Caroline Sommers walks out too - to Europe, with her kids after impulsively selling her minivan for travel money. Tired of being the perfect wife, she escapes to rediscover herself, and possibly rekindle the unrequited love of a Frenchman from her college days. While shepherding her kids from London to Scotland then Paris to Provence, she finds herself at a crossroads. Does she choose love, or lust, in the arms of a European man, or should she try again with the father of her children and the man she truly loved, once?
In addition to Caroline's travels with her children, much of the book focuses on Caroline's memories of working as an au pair in Aix en Provence and Corsica. And, yes, much of that was based on my own crush on a French doctor in my early 20s. He taught me to sail on the Mediterranean, and we sailed to hard-to-reach shore which turned out to be a nude beach.
Hope you'll consider buying, and reading, and reviewing, but no pressure. Here's the link to my novel on Amazon for the U.S.
And another link for my UK readers.
I'm linking to Paris in July, because everything I do this month is about France.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First Paragraph, Teaser Tuesday -- The Hundred-Foot Journey

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.

This is the original cover
for the book.
I've seen so much about this book and its incarnation as a movie, that I have to read it. I've had a copy of the book in the house before and my husband read it. He liked it. For some reason, I'm having trouble getting through it. It begins in Mumbai then moves to London, Lumiere (a small town in the French Alps) then Paris. Sally and Sim have both blogged a lot about the movie. The movie was filmed in Sally's French village and Sim has the trailers up.
Maybe I need to skip ahead to the France parts. My blog friends
Here's the intro of the book:
I, Hassan Haji, was born, the second of six children, above my grandfather's restaurant on the Napean Sea Road in what was then called West Bombay, two decades before the great city was renamed Mumbai. I suspect my destiny was written from the very start, for my first sensation of life was the smell of machli ka salan, a spicy fish curry, rising through the floorboards to the cot in my parents' room above the restaurant. To this day I can recall the sensation of those cot bars pressed up coldly against my toddler's face, my nose poked out as far as possible and searching the air for that aromatic packet of cardamom, fish heads, and palm oil, which, even at that young age, somehow suggested there were unfathomable riches to be discovered and savored in the free world beyond.
 I'm joining Teaser Tuesday this week too.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Open to a random page of your current read  and share a teaser sentence from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser.
Here's the cover for the
book now that it's about
to be a movie. 
And here's my teaser from page 93:
"Talent," she said through the muffled clutch of her napkin. "Talent that cannot be learned. That skinny Indian teenager has that mysterious something that comes along in a chef once a generation. Don't you understand? He is one of those rare chefs who is simply born. He is an artist. A great artist." 
Has anyone else read this book? I hope the book is as good as the trailers for the movie look.
I'm also joining in with Paris in July since this book is mostly set in France.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Le Weekend

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it.
I'd wanted to see the movie Le Weekend for a while and finally got a chance on Saturday evening. Le Weekend is about a British couple, Nick and Meg, who return to Paris for their 30th wedding anniversary. Sounds perfectly fabulous, doesn't it? It could have been a celebratory movie with the couple exploring Paris and their love. But truly, that wouldn't give enough plot points, would it?
The movie starts out with them arriving at the hotel they stayed in 30 years before, and Meg hates the decor and the small size. She flags down a cab and has it take them to a fancy hotel with a balcony view of the Eiffel Tower. Well, movies are fantasies, so we can all go along with that. She smacks a credit card on the counter and we begin to understand that finances might be tight for the couple. He later admits to her that he has been given early retirement from the university where he teaches. She says she wants to quit teaching to paint or travel.
What they learn as they sightsee in Paris is that things aren't the same there -- not for the city or for the couple. In 30 years, they've come to love each other deeper and to detest each other in ways too.
The movie was beautiful and disturbing. I think the disturbing parts, for me, were when I saw glimpses of myself or my own relationship in it. Would my husband and I treat each other with such disregard and disrespect? Would we become just wallpaper?
But, of course, it's Paris and the very streets exude romance. So they go back and forth between loving and hating each other.
They run into an old friend, played by Jeff Goldblum, on the streets and go to a dinner party at his house. They don't know what to think of his new marriage and new baby on the way -- starting over in his 60s. But the friend's admiration of Nick reminds him that he once had aspirations too, that his life has meant something.
One very touching part of the movie was when Meg related a story about being out with a friend when her phone rang. She answered and hung up after a few minutes. Her friend asked who that was because Meg was laughing and happy. The friend asked was that Meg's secret lover. And she laughed and said, "That was my husband." I've known people who spoke so harshly to their spouses on the phone, as if they were children who they needed to instruct, so that part stayed with me.
Should you watch this movie? I told my 22-year-old daughter that she probably wouldn't enjoy it, but for anyone getting a bit older who has experienced the joys and disappointments of a long-term relationship, yes, watch it. Le Weekend was interesting and sad in parts, but in the end, redemptive, I think. After the movie ended, my husband and I went to Cafe Kerouac to listen to some music. We definitely did not want another Saturday night in, a chance to vegetate and grow set in our ways.

Friday, July 11, 2014

French Breakfast and Movie Review

I don't want to only post book and movie reviews during Paris in July, but I'm not in France so that does limit my experiences.
This morning, I brought France to myself by baking pain au chocolat and plain croissants for breakfast. I shared a pain au chocolat with my husband then spread homemade strawberry jam on my plain croissant, all while drinking a cafe au lait and watching the Tour de France as the bicyclists speed toward Nancy.
We have a connection to Nancy because a French boy from that town came to stay with us one summer. He brought us a delightful little book with pictures of the Villages de France.
This one is from the Lorraine region, where Nancy is also located.

But, back to food. At Trader Joe's in the freezer section, you can buy a 4-pack of chocolate croissants or an 8-pack of mini croissants each for $4.99. Set out the little frozen nuggets the night before. The next morning, they have thawed and risen. Beat an egg and spread across the top of the croissants before baking. They're very yummy and a good 2nd choice if you can't make it to France or French croissants.

Earlier this week, I watched a movie set in France. Even if I don't enjoy a movie set in France, I usually enjoy the scenery. This one -- not so much.
The Family, directed by Luc Besson and starring Robert DeNiro and Michelle Pfeiffer, would be the perfect movie to watch if someone wanted to move to France, and you wanted to convince them not to. There is not one redeemable thing about France in the movie.
The premise is that an American mob family is relocated to Normandy in the witness protection program. The mob in the U.S. is still searching for them to kill the whole family. As a matter of fact, the movie begins with an assassin walking into an apartment and killing a family of four. Then he cuts off the finger of the father and sends it to the mob boss in prison. The mob boss compares it to the fingerprints of the dead guy to DeNiro's character. Nope. They killed the wrong family and continue the search. And that sets the tone for the hilarity and violence that continues throughout the movie.
I'm not big on violence, but what bothered me more than the violence was the way the French people were portrayed. The grocery store clerk and two older French women made fun of Pfeiffer's character as she searched for peanut butter in the grocery store. So she blew it up.
The worst French characters were the high school students. None of them were attractive and that offended me. They also seemed to be typically American -- bullies, jocks, nerds and sluts.
The French were shone in a bit of a better light when the family threw a barbecue, but according to the son, they were only coming to make fun of the Americans. So they served hamburgers and Cokes.
The movie ended pretty violently with the family coming out to relocate again.
Apparently this movie is based on the French movie Badfellas, which must be a play on Goodfellas. It's supposed to be funny, but don't choose it if  you're dreaming of France.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

FranceBookTours -- The Chocolate Kiss Review, Interview and Giveaway

When I found out that Laura Florand's book The Chocolate Kiss was going to be on France Book Tours, I immediately asked to be included. I've read her other Chocolate books set in Paris and enjoyed them. The books are a little chick lit, a little romance, and a lot of Paris and yummy French chocolate and pastries. This one did not disappoint. I almost wished I was reading it in winter because the descriptions of the hot chocolate were so scrumptious, but summer or winter, this novel will whet your sensual appetites. It was a little racier than I remember the other one's being, but that can be enjoyable too. You don't need to read the other books in the Chocolate series to read this one. They're all independent but some of the characters reappear.
Here's the synopsis from the author:
The Heart of ParisWelcome to La Maison des Sorcieres. Where the window display is an enchanted forest of sweets, a collection of conical hats delights the eye and the habitues nibble chocolate witches from fanciful mismatched china. While in their tiny blue kitchen, Magalie Chaudron and her two aunts stir wishes into bubbling pots of heavenly chocolat chaud.
But no amount of wishing will rid them of interloper Philippe Lyonnais, who has the gall to open one of his world famous pastry shops right down the street. Philippe’s creations seem to hold a magic of their own, drawing crowds of beautiful women to their little isle amidst the Seine, and tempting even Magalie to venture out of her ivory tower and take a chance, a taste…a kiss.
Parisian princesses, chocolate witches, patissier princes and sweet wishes—an enchanting tale of amour et chocolat. 
The magical aspect of the chocolate making kind of reminded me of Chocolat by Joanne Harris. This was a quick read and a delightful escape to Paris and romance.
I was fortunate to get to interview author Laura Florand. Make sure to enter the paperback copy of the book giveaway in the link at the bottom of this post for U.S. readers only.

Interview with Author Laura Florand: 
Thanks for taking the time to answer my interview questions.
Q.    Your books feature fabulous scenes in Paris. When did you fall in love with Paris? Do you live there or travel there often? I always say that France (most notably Paris) is a culture that appropriated me. Although I majored in French in college, I had considerable resistance to France itself. My Fulbright year was to Tahiti, my graduate studies were going to be in Francophone culture. Then I spent my first year in Paris as a graduate assistant, and France just sucked me in. I fell in love with my husband there, and he helped me fall in love with Paris, too, and pretty soon I was meeting all his enormous and fascinating family, giving up my studies to stay there with him, we were getting married, and eighty percent of my life was, and still to this day is, lived in French. (I’m also a professor of French at Duke now.) I had fallen down the rabbit hole into this marvelous, powerful city and culture that had just taken my life over. So I often say that writing about it—first a memoir, and now these novels—is my way of possessing my own experience, of engaging with everything that is amazing or fascinating or even frustrating and challenging about my own love affair with Paris and France.
Q. Your books also have mouth-watering descriptions of chocolate and pastries in France. What kind of research do you do to make these accurate? I am probably the most fortunate researcher in the entire world. To research these scenes, I’ve been blessed by the greatest gods of chocolate and pastry in the field, who have welcomed me into their laboratoires and kitchens so that I can observe: Jacques Genin and Michel Chaudun, as chocolatiers, and Laurent Jeannin as the head pastry chef at the Michelin three-star Épicure in the Bristol. I’ve also been privileged to have two excellent local-to-Duke chocolatiers, Paris-trained Bonnie Lau of Miel Bon Bons in Durham, and one of the earliest microbatch bean-to-bar chocolate makers in the US, Hallott Parsons at L’Escazu in Raleigh, who have allowed me to badger them with questions and curiosity when I’m not in Paris.
      It has been absolutely amazing and, of course, incredibly delicious, to be able to research with these incredible, passionate, perfectionist, generous, impossibly hard-working men and women. I am myself only an amateur cook, so I know I may still make some mistakes, despite all the research. But if I can at least capture the energy and sheer glory of what they do and what kind of people they are, that will be something.

Q     If you could only write about chocolate or Paris, not both, which would you choose? I don’t think I could do that! Choose, I mean. Paris but also the sensuality of things (chocolate, definitely!) are truly right at the core of so much of my creativity. That said, I am writing about neither chocolate nor Paris in my next series, but rather Provence and perfume and roses, so maybe that’s some kind of answer. Whatever is sensual and vivid and rich with culture appeals to me as subject and setting.

Q.    This book has some sexy love scenes. I won’t ask about research, but how do you decide how much to include? Do you ever worry about your relatives reading the sex scenes?
You know, I just go with the story. These are fundamentally books about the full sensuality of life, of Paris, of food, of everything, and to pull back on that sensuality just when we’re reaching its very heart seemed wrong. I did have some reserve at first—having started with a memoir, to find myself shifting into such deeply romantic and sexy stories was a little disorienting for me. When I was first writing The Chocolate Thief, the first in the series, I kept thinking I should close the door or do something that would make this story more “literary”. But I finally realized that to make a story less powerful to fit some pre-conceived notion of what I could or couldn’t write was inane and, honestly, intellectually weak. So I just let it go. (Kind of like a certain song my daughter has been singing at the top of her lungs in the back of the car through all our travels through Provence the past few weeks.) And I think that once I released the full story and quit trying to chain it in any way was when I really hit my stride with writing, when I could embrace everything that fascinates me most about life—falling in love with a person, a place, an experience, living and loving with energy and passion through all kinds of challenges but always to the fullest.

Q.    What inspired your series of books about women falling love in Paris? You know, while I couldn’t myself put my thumb directly on the inspiration, I think if we look at my own life (falling in love in Paris), it’s probably pretty obvious to an outside observer. J  Internally, I’m not that conscious of my sources of inspiration, I just wake up with scenes in my head, but I can say that, through my own experience, I definitely believe in the power of love and also in the challenge and depth to falling in love across cultures.

Q.    How much of yourself do you include in your characters?
I wouldn’t be able to calculcate it. These characters aren’t me, not at all. But at the same time, they are entirely me. Writing is such an act of empathy, but empathy itself depends on us being able to imagine ourselves in someone else’s shoes. (What would it be like to be…world-famous, for example, constantly in the public eye and judged? How would a shy person handle that? How would a stubborn, arrogant person handle that? What would it be like to grow up between two cultures? Etc.) So I may not be as famous as a certain character, but from somewhere in me I must be able to pull out the experience of being exposed or judged, or feeling shy or awkward, or whatever, and build from there.

Q.    Please share your writing story. How did you begin and what helped you succeed?
When I was in the third grade, we had a short story to write in class. I and my best friend, rivals for teacher’s pet, kept calling each other all evening. “I’ve got four pages!” I would brag. And she would say, “I’ve got five.”
The next day, I was so smug—nine whole pages! I would definitely win.
And she had twelve.
You might say, I’ve been determined to write more ever since.
But as to what helped me succeed—just sheer, stubborn persistence. I would read those writing magazines back then, all of which would say things like “always have ten submissions out” and “submit everything you write at least ten times”, and I would keep a little notebook, full of all my submissions, that I started making to magazines like The New Yorker when I was twelve. Filled with rejection letters, obviously. My father once told me, when I was an adult, that it used to break his heart to go get the mail every day. But I kept at it.

Q.    Do you have a new project you’re working on that we can look forward to?
Yes, the Vie en Roses series! I’m having a wonderful time with this one. It’s set in the region around Grasse in the south of France, in the heart of an old perfume family with their valley full of roses and jasmine. The first full-length book about the Rosier family is ONCE UPON A ROSE, out in August, but people can get a taste of that world in THE CHOCOLATE ROSE, which is connected to both series—a top pastry chef, but he’s long since left Paris to return to his roots in Provence and set up his three-star restaurant there. I loved writing that book and evoking this world of sun and old stone and all these scents. I hope you will enjoy it, too!

And thank you so much for having me on! I so appreciate the opportunity to talk to you and your readers about these books. (And if anyone would like more glimpses into the research, check out my website at I also post lots of photos from the research on Pinterest!)
Enter the Giveaway if you are a reader in the U.S.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Dreaming of France -- Dèjá Pre-Vu

Please join this weekly meme. Grab a copy of the photo above and link back to An Accidental Blog. Share with the rest of us your passion for France. Did you read a good book set in France? See a movie? Take a photo in France? Have an adventure? Eat a fabulous meal or even just a pastry? Or if you're in France now, go ahead and lord it over the rest of us. We can take it
This post may have a tenuous link to France, but it does deal with my feelings about France.
Yesterday afternoon, my daughter Grace and I made strawberry jam together. I was wondering whether people in other countries made homemade  jams or whether that was something that goes back to our pioneer roots here in the United States.
It was while I was stirring the long metal spoon in the thick strapberry mixture, watching it ripple and bubble in a rolling boil that I had a flash, a moment, where I suddenly saw myself and my daughter cooking in France and the idea filled me with joy. I felt sure the intuition took place in Arles, in that little restaurant that Van Gogh frequented and painted so beautifully. Then it was called The Café Terrace on The Place du Forum.
Here's a picture from a trip my husband and I took to Arles. The cafe now goes by the name of the artist who made it famous.
Maybe I had this vision because I've been reading lots of books about France. Maybe it was because my daughter stood next to me in her La Chatelaine uniform, still smelling like the coffee she helps serve in the French bistro. Or maybe I'm actually prescient and it will happen someday that Grace and I will be cooking at Café Van Gogh, even though we've never had any inclination to run a café in France.
As we continued the jam-making process, the steam rising up like so many dreams, I told Grace about my vision.

"Oh," she exlaimed. "I had a dream last night that we were running a restaurant."
"See!" I squealed. "Maybe it will come true."
"But, there was a werewolf too," she remembered.
"Well, maybe just part of it will come true," I said. 
How are you dreaming of France today?
I'm also linking with Paris in July today, and many days throughout the month.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Saturday Snapshot -- Details

I've been neglecting my blog the past few days -- attending parties and parades in celebration of the Fourth of July.
I went to a party at a friend's house and she has such a good eye for decorating details. She created shelves in her bathroom by recessing them into the wall. She lined the shelves with small glass jars filled with flat glass beads.
I'm not sure what kinds of jars these are with the metal closures, but they add to the overall look. 
Hope you're having a lovely July.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

First Paragraph, Teaser Tuesday -- The Chocolate Kiss

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the first paragraph of her current read. Anyone can join in. Go to Diane's website for the image and share the first paragraph of the current book you are reading.
I enjoy a good chick lit book and when you throw in romance, chocolate and Paris, what's not to like. Here's the first paragraph of The Chocolate Kiss by Laura Florand.
It was a good day for princesses. The rain drove them indoors, an amused little rain with long cool fingers that heralded the winter to come and made people fear the drafts in their castles. And Magalie Chaudron, stirring chocolate in the tea shop's blue kitchen, felt smug to be tucked into the heart and soul of all this warmth, not wandering the wet streets searching for a home. 
I'm joining Teaser Tuesday this week too.
Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Open to a random page of your current read  and share a teaser sentence from somewhere on that page. BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teaser
Here's the teaser from  page 96:
But she couldn't help noticing the treasure chest: a genuine jeweled chest several centuries old. He had probably bribed some collector with one of his pastries to lend him the piece, she thought irritably. The chest was tilted onto its side, and from it spilled his macarons, like something a dragon might die for: blood red filled with dark chocolate ganache, garnet flecked with genuine gold, one that was pure onyx, another a green so rich it could be emerald, another burnished amber.
Of course, this book also fits in with Paris in July, as will many of my posts this month. If you're passionate about France like I am, go ahead and check it out. It's spread across four main blogs this month.
If anyone doing Paris in July is interested in reading and reviewing either of my novels, I See London I See France or The Summer of France, please let me know and I'd be happy to get you an ebook copy free.

Hope you have some chocolate or some treasure in your day today.

Cockadoodle Doo or Cocorico?

 We stood in the middle of the road, having walked together 13 miles that day and Claudine grasped my forearm. "Mais non! It doesn'...