What is it about Paris?

I love Paris. What is it about this beautiful, historic city that pulls at the heart and the imagination? What is it that can make you want to explore time and again this world of iconic buildings, cafes, and museums, to listen to the language, admire Parisians’ flare for fashion, taste the wonderful food, enjoy the green spaces, statues, celebrate the artists and literary greats who lived there?

Lies Told in Silence opens and ends in Paris. Paris in Ruins – planned for fall publication – features the city in the midst of siege and rebellion. You Don’t Know Me – my first contemporary novel – includes several scenes in the city. I take great pleasure placing my characters in places that I’ve explored: Montmartre, the Luxembourg Gardens, the Pantheon, Shakespeare and Company’s famous bookstore, the narrow streets and wide boulevards.

Who knows, maybe the next novel will also feature Paris and I’ll have an excuse to visit once more. As Ernest Hemingway once said … There are only two places in the world where we can live happy: at home and in Paris.

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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

 

Dazzled by a green door

Dear all – this is the first post in a new series I’m calling transported … hope you enjoy it.

Almost two years ago – hard to believe – my husband and I spent three weeks living in a Paris apartment. We walked the streets searching for evidence of Paris 1870, the setting for Paris in Ruins, an as yet unpublished novel. The idea was to live like Parisians do, while absorbing the culture and feel of the city which still reflects that time period.

Historical fiction has the privilege and challenge of transporting readers in time and place. Readers say that’s the number one priority of historical fiction. Walking the streets, I focused on discovering little details that might create exactly that feeling for readers.

One day I was dazzled by this green door. What emotion does it evoke? What time period does it represent? Who fashioned the almost sinister-looking knocker? What would the knocker sound like? Look at how the shadow extends the length of the fingers. Did you notice the woman’s hand bears a ring and the wrist is framed with a ruffle? What sort of people passed through the door? Why is there a grill at eye level?

Imagine the scene: Exhausted and bedraggled, Mariele lifted the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand and let it fall. She smiled limply at her mother and knocked again. Maman’s cheeks were sunburned and her hair, normally tightly coifed, now lay like thick ribbons down her back. Their clothes were dirty, their hands scratched from climbing fences, their legs so fatigued they could barely stand. Mariele wore no boots, her feet bound in strips of cotton torn from her petticoat, were cut and blistered, the cloth damp with blood. – from Paris in Ruins 

Or maybe this could happen: Claire was curious about the door, not only its vivid green colour but also the brass knocker shaped like a woman’s hand. Stefan had told her to meet him at the shop with the green door but he’d said nothing about the knocker or the small grill that allowed the owner to scrutinize visitors before letting them in. “Details are the lifeblood of espionage,” Captain Lucas always said. If she made a mistake now, the mission would fail.

Or this: Breathless and with blood oozing from the wound to her side, Lisette lifted the knocker – the one Michel fashioned in the shape of her very own hand. She let it fall once and then twice before collapsing to the ground.

Every time I see this photo, I’m transported to another time and place.

FOR MORE ON READING & WRITING HISTORICAL FICTION follow A WRITER OF HISTORY (using the widget on the left sidebar)

M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel, TIME AND REGRET was published by Lake Union. Mary’s other novels, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, NookKoboGoogle Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.

Book Club Gals read The Book of Salt

The Book of SaltThe Book of Salt by Monique Truong promises to serve up “a wholly original take on Paris in the 1930s through the eyes of Binh, the Vietnamese cook employed by Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Viewing his famous mesdames and their entourage from the kitchen of their rue de Fleurus home, Binh observes their domestic entanglements while seeking his own place in the world. In a mesmerizing tale of yearning and betrayal, Monique Truong explores Paris from the salons of its artists to the dark nightlife of its outsiders and exiles.”

During our initial round-robin of summary thoughts, which is how we always start, last night’s book club gals had the following to say:

  • found the voice monotonous … loved Binh’s voice and being inside his head
  • did not engage me … wonderfully engaging
  • could not decide what this book was really about … it’s about cultural transplantation and being an outsider, about a voyage of courage, about leaving your roots in order to make something of yourself, about exile and the longing for home
  • ending is inconclusive … the author deliberately leaves the ending up to the reader
  • breathtaking observations and descriptions … erotic descriptions of food and food preparation

As you can see, impressions were mixed but the discussion was lively and lengthy, a sure sign of a successful choice.

Having just read Francine Prose‘s Reading Like a Writer, I found Truong’s word choice and sentence structure beautiful.

Paper-white narcissuses, one hundred bulbs in shallow pools of moistened pebbles, their roots exposed, clinging, pale anchors steadying the blooms as the angle toward the sun.

In my ear, anticipation sounds like a strong wind billowing against a taut sail, like a fire when its flames are drunk on a gust of air.

… it slammed shut behind us with such a clash that the sparrows fled from the surrounding trees, a scrap of black lace lifting into the sky, that the butterflies rose from the gladiola spikes, their wings filtering for a moment the strong light of the Saigon sun.

… but the truffle, ah, the truffle is a gift for the nose. Pleasure refined into a singular scent, almost animal, addictive, a lover’s body coming toward yours on a moonless night.

Salt is an ingredient to be considered and carefully weighed like all others. The true taste of salt–the whole of the sea on the tip of the tongue, sorrow’s sting, labor’s smack–has been lost, according to my Madame, to centuries of culinary imprudence.

Winter waited for me on the shores of this country like a vengeful dowager, incensed and cold-shouldered … when she blew the first kiss, I welcomed her with arms opened wide, never suspecting that within days she would make me cry.

Roughly 20% into the novel I had been tempted to give up, for I found myself tangled in dense sentences and a plot line that moved backwards more than it moved forwards. Perseverance was richly rewarded and the key was to lose myself in Binh’s (the protagonist) powerful voice and stop worrying about the plot. Once I did both, The Book of Salt glistened with imagery and poignant longing, and the story revealed itself.

A truly wonderful read.