Melissa Buron’s blog archive (containing posts from April 2009 to January 2015) can be found at melissaburon.com
I have a long history with France. When I was in preschool, we had a French conversation class a few times a week. I learned “Bonjour” and “S’il vous plait” with a treacherous southern accent.
Fast-forward a few decades when I move to West Africa. Suddenly everyone around me could speak French (among many other languages) and my interest in studying French was renewed. I began lessons to help communicate and made the wise choice of obtaining a French boyfriend.
In a blink of an eye I was married to said boyfriend and living in the City of Lights. Now, there is quite a difference between visiting and living in Paris as I soon discovered. First, there is not as much accordion music as in the movies. Second, your feet hurt from the cobblestone streets. And finally, everyone speaks French all the time. This is especially difficult when you are monolingual despite your best intentions.
Paris and I didn’t fall in love at first sight. We didn’t have a torrid affair. But over the years we have come to respect each other. I love the efficiency of the Metro but hate the lack of personal space. I’m sure Paris feels the same way concerning the volume of my Franco-American family but all the same loves American movies.
This year began and now is ending under the shock of terrorist attacks on my adopted city and its people. Twice I have failed to explain the events to my bilingual and bicultural children. Is it a surprise? These attacks make no sense in any language or culture.
I am shocked and sadden but refuse to mourn. For if we mourn, we are accepting the end of Paris and her way of life. I refuse to give up in the face of ignorance and violence. So instead of writing an eulogy for Paris, I want to sing her praises.
Below is a list of books that for me embody the beauty, artistry and complexity of Parisian life. Do you have any books that evoke the beauty and flavor of Paris? Please send me an email at Melissa@mabmedia.net and let me add to my list.
Stone Angel by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Katie May Green
In France, World War II was only a moment ago. Paris was especially marked by the Nazi invasion. Yolen’s story of a young Jewish girl forced to flee her home is a beautiful story of hope overcoming the horror of war.
Pumpkin Time! By Erzsi Deak and illustrated by Doug Cushman
Although the story takes place in the countryside and not in the city, this adorable book was written and illustrated by two people who I became friends with in Paris. This book is perfect for any child interested in gardening and/or pie. And honestly, who isn’t interested in pie?
For young adults:
Romancing the Dark in the City of Lights by Ann Jacobus
This amazing novel of despair, destruction and rebirth set in Paris is near and dear to my heart. It was created by the award winning author Ann Jacobus not too long after we became friends while living in the City of Light.
Anything by author Joanne Harris.
Harris does a masterful job creating and explaining French culture and its environs in her multiple novels that take place in France. My personal favorites are Holy Fools and Chocolat.
French: The Secrets of Classic Cooking Made Easy by Carole Clements and Elizabeth Wolf-Cohen
I hate to cook. By the grace of this amazing cookbook I have survived many dinners and holidays with the extended French family. It is everything a cookbook should be, clear, concise and containing countless step-by-step photos.
Wine and War by Don and Petie Kladstrup
A fascinating look at how the production and consumption of wine (and especially champagne) helped the French Resistance’s fight against the Nazi’s.
Jennifer Mathieu is not perfect, but she is rather close. As award-winning author and favorite English teacher, Mathieu announced this week the upcoming publication of her third novel which promises to be as successful as her first two novels, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE and DEVOTED. Recently, I caught up with Mathieu and quizzed her about her writing process, inspiration and advice for young writers.
Where did you grow-up and where do you live now?
I grew up in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., in Northern Virginia. Specifically Fairfax County. It’s located just outside the Beltway. I went to college in Chicago and moved to Houston in 2000, and it’s been home ever since! I hope it’s home forever. I love it here.
Describe your creative journey to becoming an author.
I’ve always been a writer. As a little girl I would dictate stories to my mother before I could write and she would copy my words. Then I would illustrate them. As I got older, I would make up books, stories, and even a newspaper covering stories going on in my house. I was a voracious reader, too. In high school, I was editor of my school paper and a journalism major in college. My parents knew I loved to write, but they didn’t know how I would make a living writing, so being a reporter seemed to be an option. I did work for a few papers out of school. My last journalism assignment was for the alternative weekly paper here in Houston. But I just didn’t have the drive you need to be a reporter. I always felt like I was bothering people when I asked to interview them! So at 27 I became an English teacher at the suggestion of my mother-in-law, who had been a teacher for over 30 years. It was great advice as I loved the job immediately. I started reading some of the young adult novels my students were reading, and I decided to give it a try! My first novel was published in 2014, THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.
What is a normal “writing” workday like for you?
Well I still work full-time as a teacher, so my writing is limited to the evenings and weekends. I also have a 5-year-old, so it’s really limited! But I have found that even just 45 minutes or an hour at night after my son is in bed and my husband and I have had some time to catch up on our days can really be productive. A little each day is my secret. During the day I’m often dreaming of my characters or letting ideas and scenes “marinate” in my mind, so by the time I sit down to write, I’m itching to go!
Who are your favorite writers and why?
I love the simple and clean language of S.E. Hinton. THE OUTSIDERS was one of my favorite books when I was young and it still is today. She gets right at the heart. I love Rainbow Rowell, E. Lockhart, and Laurie Halse Anderson for their rich and complex portrayals of adolescent life. I love a lot of nonfiction, too. Chuck Klosterman writes about popular culture and I find him so intelligent and interesting. The book RANDOM FAMILY by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is one of my favorite works of nonfiction ever. The author spent ten years following poor teenagers in the Bronx and then she wrote their stories. It reads like fiction. I read THE GOLDFINCH over the summer and found Donna Tartt’s work incredible. She has a true command of the language – lyrical yet accessible. I loved it.
What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Read for pleasure as much as possible and don’t ever let anyone shame you or make you feel bad for what you want to read. Read as much as you possibly can. Keep a journal. Don’t feel everything you write has to be “finished” or “good.” Just like a quarterback throws many footballs but only scores a few touchdowns, a writer has to write a lot before a few gems pop out. Write often and don’t be your own worst critic. Get words on the page and find a critique partner or writing group if you can. Above all, enjoy yourself. Writing is work in a sense and it can be maddening, but ultimately if you’re not enjoying it on some level, why are you bothering?
What are you working on now?
I’m revising my third book for Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan which is as yet untitled. It’s about two teenagers, Caroline and Ethan, whose lives are linked by a tragic crime – a kidnapping. It’s about overcoming guilt, trauma, and secrets, and it’s about finding a soul-saving friendship in the most unlikely place. It’s told in alternating points of view like THE TRUTH ABOUT ALICE.
Do you have any upcoming appearances or events?
You can check my author website www.jennifermathieu.com for events. I will be interviewing contemporary YA authors Julie Murphy and Cammie McGovern at Blue Willow Bookshop in Houston on Tuesday, October 6th at 7 pm. Thank you for your great questions!