Wednesday, March 4, 2015

My Huffington Post Interview! Life in Paris, Inspiration for "Close to Destiny"

More launch week fun! The Huffington Post interviewed me about my life in Paris, inspiration for my new novel, Close to Destiny, and the creation of my indie publishing business, Velvet Morning Press. Now that's a lot to talk about, isn't it? Click here to check out the interview! 

Thanks and happy reading! 

Monday, March 2, 2015

"Close to Destiny" Launch Week!

Today is the official launch of my second novel, Close to Destiny, and we're off to an exciting week! Please meet up with me on the blog Traveling With T, where I will be featured all week in "Book Talk With R & T." There will be reviews, giveaways, a Twitter Chat and more!

Here's a little look at what Close to Destiny is all about:

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.

Find Close to Destiny now in paperback and ebook versions on Amazon

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Love to Write? And You're a Foodie? A Writing Retreat Just for You...

At Velvet Morning Press, we have something exciting planned: a foodie and writer's retreat set in the beauty of France's Champagne region. Workshops, writing time, delicious meals, strolls through the vineyards... For more details, click here.

Hope you will join us! 

Thursday, February 5, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird and the New Old Novel

My beloved copy of a book, read more than a few times.

Harper Lee, the author of one of my favorite novels, To Kill a Mockingbird, has written a second book and it will be published in July. The news hit, sending a jolt of excitement through my heart. According to Lee’s publishing house, the story is about the protagonist, Scout, returning home as an adult. Lee said it was her original book, and the editors, after reading the flashbacks about the girl’s childhood, suggested Lee write a book from the point of view of Scout as a child. And To Kill a Mockingbird was born.

Recently, Lee’s attorney found the old manuscript, and Lee decided to share it with the world. Lee, who has always been one to shy away from publicity. A surprising twist. 

What bothers me, though, about such a story is that we can already see the marketing wheels turning. Any manuscript from Lee is a national treasure, and since it was written about 60 years ago, it’s a piece of history as well. The idea of it being the subject of book reviews, marketing and everything else that goes with a new book campaign makes me sad.

Imagine a reviewer found the book rather dull. Knowing that this was an initial draft of sorts given to a publishing house so many years ago, how could the reviewer really criticize the novel? It wouldn’t seem fair. Imagine a reviewer found the book brilliant, even better than To Kill a Mockingbird. Wouldn’t it be odd to make the comparison so many years after To Kill a Mockingbird has established its position in American literature?

I’m not saying Harper Lee’s work is beyond criticism. It’s just that, with the passing of so many years, it seems this new book isn’t really new. It’s more of a missing piece of the puzzle of American literature in that era. Perhaps we can compare it with other debut manuscripts from some of Lee’s fellow writers of the time. 

I think the book should be published. But not as a “hot new release” or “new bestseller.” Is there a way to release this novel in a unique manner—not set in comparison with others? We know it will sell more than the 2 million copies the publishing house plans to print. We know that it would spend quite a while on the best-seller list. 

Why don’t we exempt it from all of the hassle and all of the competition? Why don’t we even consider giving some of the proceeds to schools and literacy programs? 

This is an extraordinary piece of history. If only it could be treated as such.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Some Words About Paris...

You're probably used to reading my words about Paris by now... If you want a few more (by me as well as other authors) check out the new anthology That's Paris. It is a collection of fiction and nonfiction stories about our favorite place: The City of Light. And today is the official launch date! 

What you'll find from me? Stories about a college student trying to save the city's bridges from love locks, a young Chinese woman seeking her identity and a ballet student hoping to make it to the stage of the famous Opera Garnier. What you'll find from the other contributors? A foreword by international best-selling author Stephen Clarke sets the stage for tales of food, wine, cafes, heartache, life in the workplace and even miracles. 

Click here to find That's Paris on Amazon. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Remembering Holocaust Victims

Some things can’t be described by words. That is how I felt as I watched special programs this week about the liberation of Auschwitz prisoners. It is the 70th anniversary, and due to the age of survivors, is considered the last major anniversary in which many of them will be present to share their stories. Courageous, smart people who left the camp with nothing and built rich and beautiful lives. 

Yet any words I choose to describe the survivors’ bravery or the Nazi’s cruelty seem too weak. 

I agree with film director Steven Spielberg, who said the Holocaust was the worst tragedy the world has ever seen. Certainly, the world is all too familiar with genocide, massacres and tragedies of many sorts. As in other cases, the Holocaust targeted innocent people, torturing and killing them simply because of their religion. 

But, to me, what makes the Holocaust extraordinarily disturbing was that it was organized. Extremely organized and planned. In cold blood. This wasn’t a passionate act taking place in the heat of the moment. Just having a look at the remains of the concentration camps is enough to see exactly how planned this massacre was. 

Years ago, there was an awareness, a fear of what happened and the possibility of it happening again. When my husband was a child, a field trip to a concentration camp in Eastern France was part of the history lesson. The man who gave the tour was the grandson of one of the victims. My husband was 10 at the time, and today he says that if the man hadn’t aged, he would recognize him in an instant. Growing up in the U.S., I didn’t have the opportunity make such a trip, but I do know that our program covered the Holocaust quite extensively. I can still remember the photos in my history book, while any other photo in that text book long ago slipped my mind. 

What is frightening now, as we move forward with fewer and fewer survivors around to remind us, is the fact that the horror will be attenuated into just a sad event of the past. This coupled with a resurgence in anti-Semitism equals a serious concern for our world today. The idea that some members of the Jewish community don’t feel safe in France after the recent attack on a kosher grocery store (an attack coordinated with the Charlie Hebdo massacre) is much too close for comfort to the Nazi era.

As I look at those old wartime images, I ask myself how could human beings (and there were plenty of them) do this? Again, I’m at a loss for words. It seems impossible to be so cruel. And that’s the problem: Will people doubt the severity? Will people one day forget the details? Will some be swept up in a horrible anti-Semitic wave? 

We have one powerful weapon, and we must use it: Memory. We must remember. We must tell and retell the stories. We must never forget. 

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.” 

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