Tuesday, January 27, 2015

An Inside Look at Sorbonne Grades

The French school system is tough. It starts from preschool, with “grades” on everything from behavior to the ability to recognize shapes and colors. And it continues on, with high school students in class from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. in many cases. Here in France, subjects like geography and philosophy are part of the regular curriculum. I always loved school, but still, as I watch my 4-year-old head off to class, I can’t help but cringe as I look ahead to the exhausting schedule that awaits her. Nothing like the 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. routine back in the U.S.

But it’s not just about hours. It’s also about expectations. The French set the bar high when it comes to grades. The top score is 20, but in many cases, a 10 out of 20 is considered good. This is especially the case in a rigorous university program like the Sorbonne. My husband has a degree in literature and linguistics from that university and the feeling among students in his program was: If you make it out with a diploma, you’re lucky. In the literature and linguistics program, about 60 percent of students fail in the first year, and by the second year, 70 percent are forced to drop out.

An example of the difficulty? This weekend, we were looking through my husband’s old notes and assignments, carefully kept in organizers such as the one pictured above.

On one particular analysis (all of the assignments are lengthy analyses of texts, titles, words and even tables of contents!), my husband’s professor wrote the following comment: “A solid paper, precise and just overall.” The grade? You’re probably thinking 18 out of 20? Or maybe even 15. Nope. 12.5 out of 20. 

The grading system makes you completely reevaluate your expectations and attitude. You’re happy with a 10 and overjoyed with a 12. Rarely does one even come close to the level of 20. Once, my husband got a 19, and the professor told him, “If I give you a 20, I have to write a letter to the academy justifying the grade, so I’ll just give you a 19.”

There are two positive aspects of this harsh (overly harsh?) grading system: You can really be proud of simply graduating, no matter what the grade. And you end up with general knowledge that is so great that you will be able to keep up with even the most intellectual of conversations. The baccalauréat (or bac) a national exam to obtain a high school diploma, is a series of essay exams in various subjects that resemble a college level exam more than a high school one. The entire last year of high school is preparation for the bac.

So with all of these intellectuals running around France, are the French more successful out in the working world? Not necessarily. In the literary scene, the latest best sellers weren’t written by Sorbonne graduates. This isn’t because the Sorbonne grads aren’t good writers. It’s mainly because they write literary fiction or literary essays rather than catering to the latest trends or genres.

As I mulled over the subject, I realized that the French education system isn’t about careers, money or ostentatious success. It’s about continuing the heritage of learning and keeping the prestigious title of “intellectual.” 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

"Close to Destiny" Looks Like This!

Ta-da! The cover of my upcoming novel Close to Destiny is officially revealed. You can check out the cover reveal on the blog Traveling With T, where you'll also find an excerpt! The ebook version of Close to Destiny is now available for preorder on Amazon. The print and ebook versions are set for release March 2. 

Here's the synopsis:

Does déjà vu have a deeper meaning? 

A puzzling gift from a stranger in a hat shop. Whisperings and footsteps in a dim luxury hotel. Dreams that transport to elegant parties where champagne flows like water. Kat is both frightened and intrigued by the events that have plagued her since she arrived in London, in a final effort to save herself from anorexia and recover from her latest suicide attempt.
Most disturbing is an encounter with a mysterious woman who introduces Kat to Will. And this lovely messenger has information she desperately wants to share with Kat: an incident from more than a century ago that could transform Kat’s future. But will Kat listen?

A story of the role of destiny in life... and of righting the wrongs of the past.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Is It About Paris?

What is it about Paris? For you, it might be a place to grow up, come of age, becoming oneself. For me, it may be the city of adulthood, serious relationships, stability. It is transient for some, permanent for others. It is everything—always.

To read the rest of this post about the voices behind the upcoming anthology That's Paris, click here and visit the book blog Traveling With T

That's Paris, featuring a foreword by Stephen Clarke and stories from a variety of authors (including me!), is set for release in print and ebook formats on Feb. 2! The ebook version is now available for preorder on Amazon

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Je Suis Charlie, I Am Charlie

"Against crayons, pencils and captions, they fought with kalashnikovs. What weakness!"-- Liberation newspaper, Jan. 7, 2015

Today, I'm sad as a journalist, writer and human being. Yesterday, 12 innocent people at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were shot dead in a terrorist attack not far from my apartment. 

As they left the crime scene, the perpetrators (who are still on the run) proclaimed: "We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad" 

This hit close to home in both a physical and figurative sense. And both are frightening.

As a journalist and a fiction writer, I'm used to expressing my opinion. The idea that fellow journalists have been killed here in France, a country of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, is horrifying. 

Please click here to read my story on Medium.com about this tragic event.

Monday, January 5, 2015

"Paris, Rue des Martyrs" Available in Print!

A story of encounters that make a difference… How about taking a trip to Paris and a glimpse into the lives of four Parisians through the pages of a book?

I’m thrilled to announce that my novel Paris, Rue des Martyrs is now available in print format as well as ebook format. As some of you might know, Agency Editions Inc. published it early last year as an ebook only. 

Paris, Rue des Martyrs follows the lives of four strangers in Paris. Each one is on a quest: to uncover a family secret, to grasp a new chance at love, to repair mistakes of the past. Four stories entwine, four quests become one, as their paths cross amid the beauty, squalor, animation and desolation of a street in Paris, the rue des Martyrs. 

Rafael's search for his birth mother leads him to love and grim family secrets. Cecile's view of herself as an unsatisfied housewife is radically changed by the promise of a passionate liaison. Andre, an aging actor, troubled by the arrival of the son he abandoned years ago, must make a choice, to either lose his son forever or put aside pride and seek redemption. Mira travels to Paris to begin a new life and forget about love... or so she intends. 

Four strangers, four stories, one riveting novel.

Click here to find Paris, Rue des Martyrs on Amazon. And thanks for all of your support! 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

How I Managed to Work and Play During the School Holiday...

My daughter's "first books" during one of our school holiday projects

Over the two-week school holiday, I found the trick that had been eluding me for the past year. How can I balance working at home with spending time with my 4-year-old daughter? 

My usual technique would be bouncing back and forth from my computer to her room all day long. So I would do some writing or other work, then rush into P.’s room to dress Barbie. Do more work, then hurry over to read P. The Cat in the Hat. More work, and then back to my daughter’s room to invent stories in which we starred. 

Each time, little P. would make kewpie eyes and I would feel incredibly guilty about tiptoeing back to my office. I wasn’t being fair, expecting her to play alone, I told myself. It didn’t matter that she had plenty of toys and literally was about 10 feet away from me all day long. Randomly, I would take her out in the neighborhood, but that didn’t seem to help either.

And then, I decided to try a new technique. Every morning, I told her about the fun activity I had planned for the afternoon. On a rainy day, it would be painting or some sort of arts and crafts project. On other days, it would be a trip to a museum or the movies. 

I found that with one really good activity on our afternoon agenda, she didn’t mind playing on her own in the morning. As for my work, I ended up being more productive this way than by jumping back and forth all day long. 

And I ended up having a lot of fun too: visiting our local aquarium and a natural history museum, mixing paints and watching childhood movies that I wouldn’t have made time for otherwise.

As it turned out, balancing work and childcare—at least during this school vacation—was child’s play. 

Happy New Year everyone! 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

A French Christmas

When I spent my first Christmas in France several years ago, I found myself looking at an empty plate for hours. In a country known for its cuisine. What is wrong with this picture? I thought to myself as my stomach growled. By now, at my aunt’s house back in Florida, I would have wolfed down the traditional Italian-American Christmas eve fish dinner hours ago and I would be tucked into bed, prepping my appetite for Mom’s ham dinner the next day.

But there I was, watching my soon-to-be family savoring buttery escargot while I dreamed of the turkey that ended up arriving on the table at about midnight...

To read the rest of this post on medium.com, click here

Happy holidays!
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