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I Discovered a Thriving Literary Community as an American Writer in Paris (Guest Post)

1 May

I’m excited to publish this guest post about the Paris literary community by my writer friend Norma Jaeger Hopcraft, the author of The Paris Writers Circle and blogger of In Search of the American Dream. If you’ve been following me for a while now, you know I’ve written about the artist and literary community in Paris on a number of occasions, including my posts on the Surrealist movement and the The Beat Hotel. Norma reports back from her time living as a ex-pat writer in Paris, showing that the Paris literary community is still thriving today. If you’re looking to take a writing sabbatical abroad, she provides a plethora of resources for writers seeking literary community in Paris.

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When I moved to Paris one July recently, I arrived on a Thursday, took Friday to catch up with myself (I didn’t have to hurry—I had at least one year in Paris ahead of me—yes, be jealous!). On Saturday I launched myself upon the City of Light.

 

I took the Metro to the Eiffel Tower, explored the Parc du Champs-de-Mars at its foot, was offered replica Eiffel Towers in six sizes and colors by wandering, thin African young men. Then I headed for the Place des Vosges. On foot. On a hot day. When I got to the Place, I lay on my back on the grass, like a hundred other people, and gathered my forces around myself. I was 3,000 miles from home and did not have money to fly back and see a familiar face. I was on my own, knowing nobody in the entire city. In the country. In all of Europe.

 

I had found when I arrived on Thursday that my landlady, Martine, whom I first met via Skype, spoke great English. She went out of her way that first day to make me comfortable in my studio apartment in the ground floor of her home. I was famished when I arrived on her doorstep, had no Euros in my pockets. I asked her what I could do to get something to eat – I had no idea where a grocery store was.

 

I’ll never forget – she offered me the steak that she planned to cook for herself and her visiting son a few hours later. I was deeply moved but asked her to take me quickly to the nearest grocery store. I bought some pre-cooked chicken thighs and salad. Martine paid for them because my debit card didn’t work. I paid her back in Euros within the hour.

 

Her two nieces, Christelle and Daphné, lived in Martine’s house, in bedrooms upstairs. They were great 20-somethings who welcomed me and opened their hearts to me in the type of soul-friendship that’s a rare experience in the U.S.

 

Okay, so, in the Place des Vosges, laying on the grass, I had three faces I knew in Paris. I had a place to live. I had enough food. What did I need next?

 

Well, I was in Paris on a creative writing sabbatical. It was a gift to myself, not related to a university or artists’ residency. So I needed a circle of writers, incisive critiquers, who could help me improve my memoir. Finishing it was my goal for the year.

 

On that sunny Saturday in late July, I lay on the grass in Place des Vosges and prepared to meet my first Paris writers circle. The group was called Paris Lit Up, and I met them in a hot café where I trembled to purchase a Perrier. It bought me my seat in the café, but it nearly busted my tiny budget.

 

It was my first experience of English-speaking expat writers meeting in Paris. People in the critique group came from all over – Iowa, Barcelona, Berlin. We critiqued each other’s work, laughed over it, and then I went “home,” wherever that is, exhausted. When I got there, Martine fanned herself and said, “It’s so ‘ot.”

 

Two months went by with Paris Lit Up as my only writers’ circle, and then a Meetup popped up, to be held in the moderator’s Paris apartment. I was curious to see her space, and besides which, it sounded like such a nice gathering. “Meet, eat, and critique our work,” the description said. Eat together. Hmmm. That would form nice bonds, I thought, and I signed up.

 

Author Hazel Manuel led the Meetup, which still meets and is called Paris Scriptorium. People once again were from all over. Haze was from London by way of Wales and living full time in Paris. Ruth was British, married to a Frenchman. Kat was Russian, finishing a Ph.D. in English literature at the Sorbonee. Cris Hammond was an American living on a péniche (a barge) on the Seine. He’d written a book about traveling on it all over France’s 5,000 kilometers of canals and rivers. It’s funny. I loved it.

 

I ditched writing the memoir – so difficult to go back into all that pain – and wrote a novel instead, The Paris Writers Circle. It’s about four writers—four creative egos—who undergo dark days in the City of Light. Haze’s group critiqued it over the course of the year. The warmth of the bonds was fantastic, the talent for critique outstanding, and I’m still in touch with many of the participants today.

 

Then another Meetup popped up: The Paris Writers Group. It’s still meeting in a café and still running. After I left Paris, a member of Haze’s group, Graham Elliott, started a new Meetup, Paris Creative Writers. It meets in L’Amazonial Café, on Rue Sainte-Opportune, in the First Arrondissement, on Tuesday afternoons. If you Google “meetups paris writers in English” you’ll find all three groups.

 

I left Paris before I could attend Graham’s Meetup, but I never unsubscribed from his or any of the groups’ email lists. Every time a new meeting comes up, I wish like crazy that I were in Paris and could go.

 

So any writer who goes to Paris has three great critique groups in English (the fourth I’ve mentioned, Paris Lit Up, seems to be on hiatus) that they could attend, immerse in, and find the literary community that will help them improve their writing. They’ll also form bonds of friendship that will last even after they leave and there are thousands of miles between them and their friends’ familiar faces in Paris.

 

So make me jealous! Tell me you’re going to Paris and that you’ll attend any one of these groups! Leave a comment for me here or on my blog. And check out The Paris Writers Circle. One reviewer says, “If you love Paris, you’ll be swept away!” Another says, “Paris comes alive!” and “Outstanding for story appeal, character appeal, and character development.” Enjoy! And get to Paris!

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Hope to See You at a Workshop

29 Apr

 

Stephanie Nikolopoulos Reading

 

I’m so excited to share with you that I’ll be teaching at a few writing conferences and festivals in the next few months. One of the things I believe strongly in as a writer is giving back to the community by encouraging other writers and sharing the tips and tricks I’ve learned from my years as a writer and editor. I also love meeting you all in person and hearing about your literary journeys. I hope to see you at some of the events below. Drop me a line too if you’re going to any other great literary events that I should know about!

 

Upcoming Appearances

May 5, 2019. 2:00pm. Stephanie will teach Writing a Killer Book Proposal at ASJA’s 48th Annual Writers Conference at New York Marriott Downtown (85 West Street, NYC). Details and registration here.
June 13, 2019. 3:30pm. Stephanie will lead Build Demand for Your Book Proposal at Publishing in Color: A Publishing Conference for Under-Represented Spiritual Writers at Drew University Theological School (Madison, NJ). Registration here.
September 6-8, 2019. Stephanie will lead the writing workshop Wild Women on the Road at the Hobart Festival of Women Writers (Hobart, NY). Registration here.

 

Keep an eye on my Appearances page for more information on writing workshops, conferences, and readings.

 

I have a few more slots open, and if you’re looking for an author or publishing professional to speak at your conference, library, or school, feel free to reach out to me at snikolop {@} alumna.scrippscollege.edu.

I’ll Be on the Radio Today!

29 Aug

WIOX

The lovely Simona David interviewed me for WIOX Community Radio to discuss the writing workshop — Literary Relationships: Writing In, Into, and To Community — I’ll be leading at the Hobart Book Village Festival of Women Writers. Tune in this Monday at 1pm to hear about why I love Hobart Book Village, why you need literary friendships like Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac‘s, and how to deal with jealousy in the industry.

The Hobart Festival of Women Writers takes place September 9th through September 11 in the Catskills. Here’s a description of the writing workshop I’ll be leading:

Surveying famous literary friendships throughout history—Dickinson and Higginson; Lewis and Tolkien; Hurston and Rawlings; Kerouac and Ginsberg …. we’ll discuss the value of friendship among writers from both a personal and professional perspective as well as how writers today can achieve this type of community through such avenues as residencies, writing groups, and social media.

We’ll also consider the notion of dialoguing with writers past, present, and future through parody, homage, collaboration, and criticism. In-class writing exercises will explore these ideas and more.

Tune in to WIOX Community Radio today at 1pm to learn more!

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

9 Aug

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“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It’s like falling in love.” ~ Christopher Morley

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

I don’t read as much as I used to these days. Or, maybe I read more. It’s hard to tell. As an editor, I read all day at my job. But it’s a different type of reading. It’s more like a spot-the-difference puzzle, where I’m on the lookout for Briticisms and double punctuation marks. It’s not reading for pleasure, though it is pleasurable.

I am a book lover.

Much of my life is what it is because of books. My mother used to bribe me with books when I was a child. Books opened up a world to me. Reading became not just an activity but a refuge, and not just a refuge but a part of my identity. When I went away to camp, I took a sign language class. We were told to use the letter from our first name and the sign for an activity we enjoyed to create a unique name for ourselves. My name was an “S” opening a book.

Later, in high school, I dropped math class and took an extra English class in addition to my AP English class. My first or second semester of college, I took three English classes at the same time. It was wonderful! It felt so me. I felt like I was living out my true self. On spring break, I went to City Lights in San Francisco and dragged my best friend around the city, reading her Lawrence Ferlinghetti‘s poems.

I absorbed myself in the pages of books for hours at a time, discovering not just kindred spirits and captivating lands but turns of phrases and how punctuation influenced a reading. When I learned to read, I also began to learn to write. Reading and writing were two sides of the same coin for me. One inspired the other. I am at my best, I feel my most authentic, when I am involved in both.

A few years ago, while working full time in book publishing and going to grad school full time for creative writing, I co-authored Burning Furiously Beautiful. It was a wild, intense time. I would wake up early before work and edit, a habit this non-morning person is not a natural at. I turned down plans with friends. I surrounded myself with books. And you know what? I miss it.

I miss the intensity of reading and writing and breathing words. I miss being assigned books that challenge me. I miss being exposed to new ideas. I miss the deadlines. I miss the workshops. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the solitude. The quiet nights. The passionate flurry of ideas.

I recently did a writing intensive with some friends. We tried to push out twenty pages a week. That’s more than I was required to do in grad school. It felt good. It wasn’t necessarily sustainable, but it got me back into the habit. As well, I’m doing the Goodreads reading challenge and trying to read a book a week. I’m woefully behind. Woefully. But it has gotten me back into the habit of reading for pleasure. I ask people to recommend books to me, so I still am being exposed to things I wouldn’t normally select for myself. Sometimes my friends read the same books; sometimes I read the book for my book club; sometimes I read the book for Bible study; and sometimes I get around to reading the books I excitedly bought but remained on my bookshelves. I read on the subway. I read in bed. I read in the bathtub. I read on NJ Transit.

And I’m about to read right now before bed! I’m finally getting around to reading Vivian Gornick‘s The Odd Woman and the City.

 

Quotable: You wish the author…

13 Jun

 

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“What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much, though.”

~from J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye

You may enjoy this Catcher in the Rye-themed book party I hosted.

28 Mar

Sheryl Sandberg Quote

Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In was one of my favorite books of 2013.

Writing Poetry in a Swedish Coffeehouse

23 Mar

fika

 

It’s nice to get out of the studio sometimes and write somewhere different. A change in perspective can kick start the creative juices and create renewed focus.

Coffeehouses seem ideal for writing poetry. There’s just something about the smell of coffee and the introspective atmosphere. Maybe it has something to do with the rich history of coffeehouse culture that dates back to the Ottoman Empire. Maybe it has something to do with what William S. Burroughs quipped:

“Kerouac opened a million coffee bars and sold a million pairs of Levis to both sexes.”

Or maybe it’s just that I’m Swedish, and we Swedes are known for our coffee habit.

In any event, I headed to the ever-expanding Swedish coffeehouse chain FIKA for a latte, a semla (the pastry pictures in the photograph), and some writing and editing. I hope to have a new poem to share with the world soon.

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“A Secret Hidden in This Book”

21 Mar

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I Will Be Teaching a Literary Relationships Class

18 Mar

Nikolopoulos teaching at Festival of Women Writers

I’m so excited to announce that I have been selected to lead a discussion at this year’s Festival of Women Writers in Hobart, New York!

The class I’m teaching will be called Literary  Relationships: Writing in, into, and to Community.

Here is the description:::

Surveying famous literary friendships throughout history—Dickinson and Higginson; Lewis and Tolkien; Hurston and Rawlings; Kerouac and Ginsberg—we’ll discuss the value of friendship among writers from both a personal and professional perspective as well as how writers today can achieve this type of community through such avenues as residencies, writing groups, and social media.
For more information, visit the Festival of Women Writers website and Facebook page.
You might also be interested in:::
Also, find about upcoming readings, workshops, and how to book me on my Appearances page.

Reading in the Tub

16 Mar

Stephanie Reading in the Bath

I received this bath caddy as a gift and have been using it almost every night. Reading in the tub has been a great way to unwind and squeeze a bit more literature into my life.

A few months before that, I was quoted on Twitter about my bathtub rituals, so it was quite an appropriate gift.