Tag Archives: travelogues
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Leaving

3 Jun

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Let Yourself Be Gutted

6 May

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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!

John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and Jack Kerouac Write about Nature

23 Apr

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“Between every two pines is a doorway to a new world.”

~ John Muir

It was conservationist John Muir‘s birthday over the weekend and yesterday was Earth Day. A few years ago, I had the great pleasure of editing a reissue (not the one pictured above) of his My First Summer in the Sierra and writing the flap copy, and I quickly became absorbed in the poetic language he used to described the beauty of the earth. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have caught on that even though I absolutely love the glittering sidewalks and Art Deco skyscrapers of New York City, I am just as comfortable out in nature. (It’s the suburbs I can’t stand!)

Muir was an early advocate of nature preservation and founded the Sierra Club. He used to hang out with Teddy Roosevelt, whom I’ve also written about, and they’d go off exploring Yosemite. Can you imagine any of our recent presidents going off into the woods with someone we’d today probably label a hippie? It was this very friendship between Roosevelt and Muir that led to America’s natural beauty being preserved. Interestingly enough, Muir and Roosevelt were both rather talented writers, and their works are travelogues through nature.

Jack Kerouac referenced John Muir in The Dharma Bums, a novel that makes you want to drop everything and go sit in the woods for a great long while. He also wrote about Muir in an essay entitled “The Vanishing American Hobo“:

John Muir was a hobo who went off into the mountains with a pocketful of dried bread, which he soaked in creeks.

Kerouac was incredibly well read and would often read history books about America before or during his road trips. As “The Vanishing American Hobo” indicates, Kerouac saw the landscape and economy of America changing before his eyes as he traveled. The era he lived in was the beginning of the great highway system, and he saw why Muir’s conservation efforts were so important.

We tend to associate road tripper Jack Kerouac with cars and bars, but he actually loved nature. On the Road is essentially a glowing account of America’s landscape, the melon patches, the sun-drenched sky, the ragged mountains. In Big Sur, we see him sit out and just stare at the ocean, absorbed in nature. His obsession with animals gives us a poignant insight into his psyche.

We often put labels on people, and to see literature through critics’ lenses. What if we read John Muir’s work as literature instead of viewing it as nature writing? What if we read Jack Kerouac’s work as nature writing instead of counter-cultural novel?

What if we saw a story in a blade of grass? What if we listened really hard to the call of a bird?

You might also be interested in this article I wrote a few years about John Muir for Burnside Writers Collective:

And in this clip of me reading from Burning Furiously Beautiful about Jack Kerouac’s empathy toward animals.

Writing Wednesday: Building Your Book Before You Even Begin Writing It

5 Sep

David Krell’s article “From Book to . . . Blog? Inspiration for the Aspiring Nonfiction Author,” published in Publishing Perspectives is jam-packed with great advice for nonfiction writers.  To sum it up succinctly: start garnering interest in your nonfiction book before you even publish it.

Krell offers five tips on how to build your author platform before you’ve even published books.  He advises that you can score interviews and forewords for your book as well as lectures at conferences before you’ve even finished writing your book.  This, in turn, will improve your chances of writing a well-informed book, obtaining a reputable agent, and selling your book successfully because you’ll have taken the time to build up your reputation as an authority on the subject and gotten other authorities on the subject to contribute to your book.  You should read his tips on Publishing Perspectives for more insight on how to begin building your platform and become a successful author now, even before you’ve written a book.

In relation to Krell’s advice, here are a few questions I think a nonfiction writer should start thinking about as early as possible:

Who is your target audience?

What are the sub-themes of your book?  What are the various angles you can use to market your book?  (Krell’s book is about the Brooklyn Dodgers, but his friend suggests it’s also about urban history.  One of my books is a memoir about growing up Greek American in New Jersey.  It touches on family dynamics, coming-of-age stories, New Jersey, Greece, identity, and the immigrant experience.  Another of the books I’m working on is about Jack Kerouac.  Looking at it through a broader lens, it could appeal to anyone interested in the Beat Generation, the 1940s and 1950s, travelogues, and American history.)

Who would you like to interview?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to write your foreword?  (Approach them now.)

Who would you like to blurb your book?  (A blurb is the endorsement on the back of a book.  Approach people now.)

What associations are there for your subject?  (Sign up for the mailing list, get to know its leaders, volunteer to help with an event or to write a guest blog entry.)

What conferences are held on your subject—or on your sub-theme?  (Begin attending, meeting people, speaking.)

What websites are about your subject or sub-theme?  (Sign up for their newsletter, leave comments on their posts, offer to guest blog.)

What books are similar to yours?  (Read them to get ideas.  Also, read the acknowledgements to find out who their agent is.  Begin following the agent’s work to see if you’re interested in signing with them.)

Are there any other questions you would add to the list?

By thinking about these questions now, you’ll have a clearer vision of where you’re headed.  You’ll also be more motivated to continue writing because you’ll have people who are already invested in your success.

Happy writing!