What inspired this book?
The inspiration for Paris Never Leaves You came from women who were nothing like the protagonist Charlotte. As I read memoirs and biographies of individuals who lived through World War II, I encountered many heroic women who fought for the Resistance and spied for the Allies and risked their lives to help defeat the enemy. But the more I read, the more I wondered about other women who were not blessed, or cursed, with such courage, women, I admit, like me. How does one survive in a world stalked by danger? How does one try to live a normal life under horrendously abnormal conditions? And to what lengths would a woman go to save herself and, more chillingly, her child? Those were the questions that gave life and form to the book.
What was the research process like for the book?
My research process is similar for most of my books, though there were two major differences for Paris Never Leaves You. In all my books, I start with general histories, go on to memoirs, personal accounts, contemporary newspapers and magazines, and finally archives. I love this part of writing a book, and often I’m having too much fun to stop. But somewhere along the way, a voice in my head begins telling me it’s time to start writing. I pursued the same course for this book, with, as I said, two major differences.
One was a serendipitous discovery I made early on in the research, thanks to the open stacks of the library where I do much of both my research and my writing. While looking for one book, I stumbled across another on a topic I’d never guessed and few historians I’ve spoken to since knew about. I won’t tell you what it was. I don’t want to spoil the plot. But it deepened both the characters and plot in ways I hadn’t originally thought of.
The second difference in researching Paris Never Leaves You is that I had to do almost none for the parts of the novel set in the world of 1950s New York publishing. Several decades later, I worked in a publishing house in New York, and though by then the industry had changed in some ways, human nature hadn’t. Many of the characters Charlotte works with and the incidents that occur were inspired by my own experiences in that world.
What are you hoping the reader will take away from reading your book?
My main hope is that the reader gets lost in the world I’ve recreated and cares about the characters. In other words, I’m more interested in the reader’s having a good time than getting a message. That said, I have a deep concern with moral issues. In Paris Never Leaves You, I provide no answers, but I do hope I inspire the reader to ask questions, about the world in general and about her own life. Or to put it another way, what would I do under the circumstances?
What’s the easiest and most difficult parts of your job as a writer? Does the creative process get easier for you with each book?
I don’t think there are any aspects of writing that are consistently easier or more difficult. Sometimes a scene will practically write itself while others are a struggle. I’ve yet to find out why this is so. It has nothing to do with the kind of scene I’m writing. In some instances, dialogue comes easily, in others the words refuse to flow. Sometimes description seems to go straight from my imagination to the page, others I simply cannot write what I see in my mind’s eye. Perhaps the oddest aspect of this is that I can sit for hours writing, deleting, and staring at the screen of my laptop. Then quitting time comes. (I write in a library from 9 or 10 in the morning to about 6 in the evening.) The minute my feet hit the street, I suddenly see what I’ve been doing wrong and how to fix it. It’s not unusual to find me sitting on a wall or bench outside a New York City building scribbling for fear the words will evaporate by the time I get home. As for writing getting easier with successive books, I haven’t found that to be true, but I do know with each book I become more demanding of my writing.
What’s some great advice you’ve received that has helped you as a writer?
The best advice I ever got was from a brilliant editor I worked with some years ago. I was having a devil of a time with a scene. He suggested I write it backwards. I asked if he meant from end to beginning, which Mary McCarthy actually does in one of her novels. He said no, write it from the opposite emotion. Too often, a writer, or at least this writer, automatically goes for the obvious reaction or the reaction she, the writer, might have in her own life. But sometimes the opposite reaction or at least a different one is what a particular character might have under the circumstances and what makes the character not only more interesting but a truer individual.