“Natalie” Meet “Stéphane”

English Natalie and French Stéphane have been mentioned here just once before, and then only while discussing someone else. I’d not included them in my characters’ summaries. They deserve further explanation.

“Stéphane” is a cobbling together of views I’ve heard out of a variety of Frenchmen over the years. One example:

As Natalie focused on Isabelle briefly, Stéphane observed, smiling, “You know, James, a friend of mine works in a big medical research place. You know the language the Germans and Japanese and French and Americans and others speak at work? English! In Paris!” He laughed.

He owes his looks mostly to a one man I’d met a couple of times in Paris. His confident, friendly, outgoing demeanor, and excellent English, come largely from that real man as well. Here’s another bit from an exchange with James:

“My parents used to bring us on holidays to France,” Natalie explained. “Isabelle probably told you I met Stéphane in London. I thought, ‘Oh, not bad for a Frenchman!’”

Stéphane kidded Natalie in turn. “And I thought you were attractive for an English girl!”

“Natalie” comes to us primarily owing to inspiration provided by an English undergrad I knew while working in a Long Island college in the 1990s. Stick thin, thin blonde hair, huge blue eyes, and seemingly always smiling, she greatly enjoyed studying in the U.S. She knew she was exaggerating about England, yet joked to me once in her rather Sloaney accent, “Oh, it’s always raining, and everyone always has a cold.”

She was also a Francophile. And she spoke French well; but she voiced frustration French people she knew were always on at her to speak with them in English because they wanted to work on their own English with a native English speaker. I get that point in too, when Natalie greets Isabelle and Virginie at Isabelle’s fourth floor apartment door:

“That’s some walk up,” Natalie replied, breathing heavily. “May we speak French? I always need the practice.”

“I was hoping we could speak English,” Virginie answered in English. “I need the practice. Isa does too!”

I once asked her, “Why are you here in New York and not Paris?”

She replied, “My father’s company sent him here. Ah, but if they’d sent him to Paris?” [A broad grin and mischievous wink followed.]

A certain “class” of the English tend not raise their voice during an argument, or when angered; instead they become cooler and cooler. She fit that stereotype. Here’s one sample of how I portrayed and fictionalized that aspect of the character: Natalie quietly complains to Isabelle about her cousin Maddie’s American roommate’s appalling behavior during summer school in Italy:

“She managed to get a part-time job in a club,” Natalie continued. “Maddie says she’s sure the girl’s got no work visa, so it must be an illegal cash job. She comes home with losers and smokes cannabis with them too. Bible-waving Americans think Europeans have no morals? A load of old tosh.”

Fictionalizing an Anglo-French couple having met in London and now living in Paris was aided by my encounters with several French in Britain. One person in particular unwittingly helped: a Frenchwoman in an Anglo-French marriage. “Simone” and I worked together in London for over five years.

Flags of France (l) and England.

Flags of France (l) and England.

We had lunch a few times only the two of us. (It was normally a small mob.) I always hate talking shop over lunches. So when provided with any one-on-one opportunity, I usually sought to get her to share a bit about her life in France.

In turn, she’d sit in the pub with her glass of red wine (seriously; but never mind about that), and angle instead to talk with me mostly about England and us foreigners living in the country. She once observed wryly, “I came to London to get a Ph.D. I ended up with an English husband, and no Ph.D.”

Unsurprisingly the U.S. normally also came up. She had visited America – Florida – only once, and had never been to New York. Nevertheless, she knew a great deal about the country, and was intensely interested in it. Maybe that was why hearing details about my life back in New York was also of interest to her?

Take a wild guess. Which of us regularly prevailed when it came to the choice of pub lunch conversational topics? Hint: it sure as heck wasn’t me.

In writing these novels, I’ve come to feel the entire concept of “fiction” could itself be termed “fictional.” F. Scott FitzgeraldErnest HemingwayHow many others? Locales may be altered, names are changed, individuals blended together, facts rearranged and repositioned so they best suit a narrative, but novelists certainly derive characters and plots from their own real life experiences.

I readily admit, I have. ;-)

__________
See related:
Quick Take 8: (Our Leading Lady) “Isabelle”
Quick Take 7: “Maki”
Quick Take 6: “Mark”
Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)
Russians
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Sense Of Place

Yesterday I received a Facebook message from my wife’s friend in Bristol; her husband is writing a novel. He had a question for me about New York City. Specifically he wanted to know something about Brooklyn.

You remember him? I wrote about him a few months ago. He’s the guy who’ll probably get a film deal after selling like, urr, a gazillion books…. and I’ll sell, uh, quite a few less. ;-)

I was startled he had a question about anywhere in the U.S. I say that because he has managed, without ever having even once set a foot in the U.S., to write vividly about life, people and places in the country. Everything he knows about the U.S. he has picked up from books, TV, films…. and, uh, me.

Amazing how some manage that. But I find there is also nothing more satisfying and useful than having walked the ground in the places you are using – or even just think may use – as story background. Doing that imbues a tale with a much more rooted “sense of place.”

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter's Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

Pope Francis passing by at an audience in St. Peter’s Square, the Vatican, September 2013. [Photo by me.]

I was unsurprisingly pleased (to be honest, ecstatic is a better word) when one of my readers wrote me that she enjoyed my detailing a Paris neighborhood where she had lived. She said it brought back happy memories. That I had been there myself definitely made a difference: I don’t know if I would have been able to write about it quite as I had if I had never been there in person.

Yep, umm, just like our pal Ernest Hemingway. ;-)

It’s Not A 40 Hour Week

The more book you write, the more you need to remember, and the more you have to keep together. Working through the first sequel, I’m juggling several families, as well as multiple locations in three countries: the U.S. and France again of course, and this time Britain too. Subplots blend together, or they may not. I have to keep personal histories straight. I need to keep the timeframe in mind.

Because I’m writing a “real world.” I suspect penning fantasy is easier in at least this respect: you may always make up something magical to move a story along. But, as I like to joke, I have no vampires, so the story must not only be compelling and break new ground, but it must fit into its historical locale (the mid-1990s) and ultimately read “believably.”

Gee, what could be easier? But before I wrote any of it, I had already outlined broadly what would happen all the way to the end. I had summarized for myself in a Word document where I wanted the story to go and how it would get there. It was not unlike a builder framing a house.

* * *

After that framing, I began constructing the interior – which is where I am now. I’ve got about 75,000 words. Some will definitely be changed, and some seem likely to stay as is; but I’m not nearly finished yet.

I regularly re-upload the manuscript-in-progress in .pdf to an “e-reader.” Last night, I had been re-reading a section I’d written, oh, at least two months ago. I realized I had actually forgotten lots of the story details in that part of the book.

Re-reading in a detached manner after an extended interval has its creative benefits. I found myself doing what I always do, thinking: “Oh, that’s good! I wrote that?” as well as, “Geez, that’s a bit amateurish. You aren’t 14 years old. That’s getting the chop!” I also had some pangs of concern: “Hmm, am I going overboard with that sex scene? Remember women friends will again be reading this!” ;-)

How my real life novelist uncle would laugh at me. In Passports, I’d slotted in a fictionalized tribute to him that stemmed from an actual conversation I once had:

“You should write something,” she prodded him. “Your uncle could help you.”

Distinctly uneasy with that recommendation, James discounted it. “What he writes isn’t what I like to read. I couldn’t write what he does. I remember my grandmother once telling him off about the sex. ‘Where did you learn stuff like that?’ she yelled.”

“Hmm, yes, I agree with her from what I have read,” Isabelle smirked. “I think your uncle has learned many things a mother would not want to believe her son knows. It does not matter how old he becomes!”

It is sneaky dropping bits like that in, I know. But, hey, Ernest Hemingway would! ;-)

* * *

So I smiled to myself when I noticed Author Alliance tossed this out the other day for the consideration of “Twitterdom”:

image

Seriously? I was struck immediately with that being – for me, anyhow – impossible to answer. It was – also for me, at any rate – borderline silly. I tweeted back, “How long is a piece of string?”

Writing is not just the mechanics of pre-organizing the book, and then the typing, and the occasional extra research, and the editing. For me, writing these novels is all-consuming. They occupy and fill my mind.

They have become LIFE – which they should be if they are to be “alive” for future readers. Even when I’m not physically sitting in a front of a PC writing, I may well be thinking about what I will be writing, could be writing, or will change. How do I possibly note all that on a timesheet? ;-)

Oh, and Happy Bastille Day!

After A Working Vacation

Noticing Mr. Scott off-duty reading what appears to Captain Kirk to be still more work-related materials, he smilingly confronts the Enterprise’s chief engineer:

Capt. Kirk: Another technical journal, Scotty?
Scott: Aye.
Capt. Kirk: Don’t you ever relax?
Scott: I am relaxing.

How many of us do that? I’m sure I’m not alone. What did I bring along as “light reading” for the beach and poolside while on vacation?:

Florida vacation “light reading.” [Photo by me, 2014.]

Hey, don’t laugh. You have your preferences too. And when she saw what went into the bag as we packed, my wife voiced surprise: “What? No Jefferson biography?”

Err, nope. Not this holiday anyway. Ah, but I knew there is always also what’s on the Kindle! ;-)

* * *

That said, I did not read or, naturally, write – other than a bit on Twitter and Facebook, a couple of emails and, of course, this blog – too much that wasn’t my manuscript. As a result, I made more manuscript progress than I had expected before we started the long trek down I-95 to the Florida Keys.

Yesterday, I assessed the full manuscript. I have enough of it now that I can pull up the in-progress sequel in .pdf and compare it to the final .pdf of Passports. Its internal format and layout will be the same as Passports. Given the books are a series, I want them to fit nicely side by side.

I even have cover photo ideas – both for front and back. I’m still unhappy with “stock model” photography I’ve seen (apologies to photographers; I do know you have to eat too), so the back cover may – may – include a photo of a “non-identifiable person” that I snapped a long time ago. I’m still wrestling with using it or not: it looks agonizingly good, though – thus my dilemma. (I could still be persuaded on “stock photos” if I saw any I really liked.)

Most importantly, it appears splitting the sequel into halves, as I had been thinking I might, won’t be necessary. I have plowed through so much since mid-June that if I can keep it up I may be able to get the whole “400 page” sequel published in one shot during the late autumn as I had hoped. Almost time again for the proofreaders….

* * *

You do learn lots, storyline, and storytelling-wise, one book to the next: what sorta works v. and what is a home run. I am immensely proud of Passports. But I promised Kam’s sister I would dedicate the second volume to Kam, so I’m determined (obsessed is probably a more accurate description) to make the second volume “better” than the first one.

Overall while the sequel is still far from finished, I’m happy about where I am now compared to where I was at this point in mid-2013 with the Passports manuscript…. long before this blog appeared in the endless internet universe and most of you knew I even existed. And, of course, before I knew most of you existed either! ;-)

What a world we live in now, isn’t it?

I hope you’re having a good weekend….

A Guy In Sunglasses….

….on a harbor tour back on Monday, with Fort Sumter in the background:

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

Me. Charleston harbor, South Carolina, July 2014.

I recommend visiting Charleston, South Carolina. The city itself is more than worth seeing – its historic district in particular. Even more attractive, its people are just so darn pleasant.

One other thing. You can’t really tell from that photo, but it was not just sunny. It was also super-blazing hot!

Of course not that anyone would expect scorching heat in South Carolina in July? Would they? :-)

For July 14

I kept to my plan. Yes, while on vacation I actually got more of the sequel written. As I had explained to our friends’ young daughter, “When you’re writing, you’re never on a holiday really.”

The other day I also had an idea for the already published opening volume. A “Bastille Day” sale for Passports on Kindle was so obvious I was annoyed at myself for nearly having overlooked it:

France's President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bastille Day, 1995. [Photo by me, 1995.]

After all, in one chapter in that first volume, we find ourselves once again on July 14, 1995:

…On the Champs-Elysées, they managed a spot right along the curbside barrier. The growing crowd pressed all along it as far as they could see. As the parade began, James admitted to Isabelle he was amazed by the French military he saw passing. Even the U.S., which revered its military, did not do martial parades quite like this, he said…

So the Kindle book is 99 cents on Amazon.com until July 15. (Unfortunately, its regular price is apparently too low for a similar sale to be possible on Amazon.co.uk.) I haven’t done a “promo” like this before. It’s new territory for me. :-)

Five Centuries In Eight Photographs

Yesterday, we visited the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine. For centuries, the fort was central in the town’s existence. Although it has changed hands by treaty several times, no attacker has ever taken it in battle.

That in mind, here is a history of that fort, and St. Augustine…. as, uh, illustrated and outlined, in chronological order, by some photographs:

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

1. In 1513, Spaniard Juan Ponce de Leon wanders through seeking the Fountain of Youth. He never finds it. [Photo by me, 2014]

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014

2. The site now marked by a cross, other Spaniards land in 1565. A first Mass is said. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

3. After several wooden forts fail to do the job they want, the Spaniards get serious and decide to build a masonry one. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

4. Front of the Castillo de San Marcos. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain's flag proudly flew over the town and fort for centuries. [Photo by me, 2014.]

5. Imperial Spain’s flag proudly flew over the fort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain's flag also looked too much like England's Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles a bit confusing. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed their flag. [Photo by me, 2014.]

6. Unfortunately, Spain’s flag looked too much like England’s Cross of St. George from a distance. Which made fighting naval battles difficult. So in the 18th century, the Spanish changed theirs. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

7. Great Britain took over Florida in 1763. But they had to give it back to Spain in 1783. [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans.... [Photo by me, 2014.]

8. Finally, the Americans…. [Photo by me, 2014.]

A bit of a history lesson. In pictures. But don’t worry, there’s no quiz to follow. ;-)

St. Augustine, Florida

We’re making our way “back north.” We stopped in St. Augustine, Florida, en route. As we do when we travel, we went to church locally last night.

And this one was pretty impressive. The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine is the oldest Roman Catholic parish in North America:

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The tower of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Brief history of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Happy Independence Day, 2014

A few thoughts on today’s U.S. Independence Day. It’s an extra-special one for us because it’s my wife’s first as a U.S. citizen. And she is – as you know if you visit regularly – British.

It’s also the first one for some time in which we are actually physically present in the U.S. We have often laughed on our trips around the U.S. over the years as to how the history of “1776 and all that” seems a bit awkward at times. Invariably, at some point, she’d hear some tour guide say something like this:

“Welcome. This is where George Washington lived. He was our first president. He led the American army in battle against the British.”

Or:

“This is the home of Thomas Jefferson. He is most famous for writing the Declaration of Independence during the war with Britain. He also once said he would have sunk that whole island into the sea.”

Or:

“Here, at Yorktown, this is where the Americans and the French cut off the British under Lord Cornwallis, and the British army eventually surrendered.”

She accepts all of that. That was then, she jokes; and things have changed rather a lot since. And, earlier this morning, she reminded me with a smile that this is “her country” too now.

However, one matter she is never too happy about is, uh, that “the French” were here! ;-)

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

Photo that is the source for the Passports novel cover. [Photo by me.]

The famous Tricolor we know so well is not the French flag under which France aided the U.S. in the war. The French flag then was that of the Ancien Régime. During the 1790s, Americans became split on whether they owed the new French revolutionary regime anything, given that regime was not the one that had helped America win independence.

And the U.S. Stars and Stripes was not the flag under which independence was declared either. But never mind. It all gets too complicated. :-)

Happy 4th of July!
________

UPDATE: That said, one Lynn Cole, resident in Italy, shares this view in The Guardian:

I am not a god-fearing, gun-toting, flag-waving, red-blooded American but a world citizen, and always have been.

She would hardly be the first to fancy herself a “world citizen.” To confirm it, my suggestion for anyone who holds that opinion is the next time you approach a border officer in airport arrivals in New York, London, Paris, Rome, or wherever globally, that you inform the officer of that status. A U.S., or other country’s, passport will no doubt not then be required of you as you are warmly greeted, “Welcome, World Citizen.”