How long did it take you to write the first book?
Years. I began it when my daughter was in primary school, but it sat in a drawer until she was in junior high! I thought it was passable, but was too shy and embarrassed to show it to anyone. I had never written fiction before. When, in 2007, I began teaching at New York University in Paris, I pulled the manuscript out of the drawer and finished it. I was inspired both by my students, many of whom are great, honest, writers; and by my very clever colleagues who have PhD’s from Yale and Oxford and Harvard. I didn’t want a doctorate, but I knew that I now wanted, very badly, a published novel.
Was it hard to find a publisher?
It was hard to find an agent! It took months, maybe even a year, because you’re supposed to wait until you get a reply from an agent before you send your pages off to the next. Sometimes the agents wouldn’t reply. I was very lucky to find Katherine. She’s originally from New Orleans so she’s a real Francophile.
Are you a big mystery fan?
I must say that I don’t read mysteries often. I like Donna Leon, I have a crush on Brunetti and one of the (male) librarians at the American Library of Paris told me that he has a crush on Brunetti’s wife Paola! I also read P.D. James, and I love John Thaw in the television version of Inspector Morse. But other than that…
So why did you write a mystery?
I was too shy to begin writing fiction, so I thought that if I wrote ‘genre’ fiction I would have some boundaries to work with. Every mystery has the same framework: someone dies, there is a murderer, and the hero/heroine looks for that killer. It helped me enormously, especially with the dialogue, which as a non-fiction writer I had never done before. And then you very quickly become comfortable with your characters and it’s hard to shut them up!
So what do you read?
Barbara Pym and Anita Brookner are my favorite writers. I love Irish writers too, especially John McGahern and Roddy Doyle. Dublin is one of my favorite places in the world.
Speaking of place, Aix has much importance in your book, almost like a character. Are you a big traveler?
Yes! We’re lucky living in the south of France, because we can easily drive to so many great places. I probably shouldn’t claim to be a ‘big’ traveler, as I like to stay in Europe. From our house we can drive to the Italian border in two hours, so we’re very attached to Italy. Our daughter speaks Italian, and she claims that our vacations consist of: churches, restaurants, and more churches. We love old stones, and good food.
What are your favorite cities?
Lyon, Dublin, Warsaw, Toronto, Porto, Basel, London, Venice.
Arles. And Beaune (for obvious reasons…the wine!)