What a treat! Today author Carolyn Moncel joins us to talk about her book "Encounters in Paris."
Welcome Carolyn! Please introduce yourself!
Currently, we are a family of expatriates! We moved overseas from Chicago, my hometown in 2002 and for exactly five years, I got to be “An American in Paris.” When my husband accepted a job offer in Paris, I packed up my two daughters (ages 5 and 2 weeks at the time), my business, a dog and a cat and joined him! I’ve been living in Lausanne, Switzerland since 2007 with my husband Philippe, two daughters Chloe and Jillian and a very, very old cat called Poeme.
When I am not writing fiction I’m a bit of “Jill of all trades.” I run two companies with offices in Chicago, Paris and Geneva: MotionTemps, LLC (www.motiontemps.com) a bilingual Digital Project and Web Content Management firm, and its subsidiary, Mondavé Communications (www.mondaveinc.com), a media relations training and now, publishing company.
Like the character in the book, Ellery, I had a pretty typical childhood growing up Catholic on Chicago’s southwest side. My dad was a factory worker and my mom a cashier in a department store. Unfortunately, my dad died when I was four years old, so most of my life, it was just my mom and my two other brothers.
I come from a family of story tellers – my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, etc. With my brother, Kirk’s help, I think I wrote my first story at age four or five. I could read some but I couldn’t write very well yet. It was a story about a snake named Sammy. My mother remembered it as being something pretty special; I just thought it would be cool to have a snake. I think I kept reading and writing out of boredom. In my neighborhood, there just weren’t very many girls around; and the boys didn’t want me around. Writing allowed me to create my own world and keep myself entertained.
I can’t remember when I started writing stories, but I do remember when and why I stopped. While in college I discovered what George Orwell meant by, “writing being “a horribly exhausting struggle.” So I put it aside briefly and concentrated more on journalism and public relations. Even then, my attraction to those disciplines had to be related to storytelling. I graduated from Loyola University Chicago with a BA in Communications; with a minor in political science in 1991. From there I bounced around from PR and Advertising agencies to dot.com companies, finally deciding to open my own company, MotionTemps. It wasn’t until we moved overseas that I started writing again seriously.
What is your story about?
Well, Encounters in Paris is a collection of short stories. There are five stories that all center around Ellery Roulet, a 35-year-old African-American who lives and works in Paris. Ellery thinks she has everything. She is married to handsome French guy, has twin daughters and runs a successful bilingual PR firm in one of Paris’ trendiest parts of town. Unfortunately, Ellery soon realizes that life isn’t always so perfect. In one story she loses her job, in another she finds out her husband is having an affair, and yet in another she deals with the death of her mother. She realizes that life can be quite messy; some problems can be solved while others can’t and that’s okay.
How did this story come to you?
The inspiration came from observing life in general while living and working in Paris. Expatriate life is hard, and I wanted to address some of the more common scenarios but through the eyes of this character, Ellery. Originally, I envisioned the project as a novel, but somehow, I just could never finish it. When a friend back in Chicago suggested that I break up the novel into shorter stories, the ideas really starting flowing.
What compelled you to write it?
I finally had something to say. It helped that I didn’t have any real expectations other than to just publish something.
Who is your favorite character?
The main character, Ellery without a doubt, is my favorite character. There is so much more to her personality waiting to be explored, and I am really looking forward to expanding her experiences in future projects. Once again, she is not me entirely, but definitely, there are aspects of my personality, along with others, reflected in her. But her actions are all her own.
Do you have a favorite story and why?
I love all of the stories but I think my favorite story to write was Some Birds of a Feather. I think I like it so much because it’s a tribute to my mother who passed away in 2006. She was a character in her own right and because of her life growing up on the Mississippi Delta, she could spin some yarns better than William Falkner or Flannery O’Connor. The pigeons are real. There are two of them that sit on my kitchen window sill right now. For me, losing both of my parents, it’s just comforting to imagine that these two pigeons are there to watch over me. It’s a feel- good story.
What was your favorite scene to write?
I have two favorite scenes. In the story, Pandora’s Box Revisited, I really enjoyed detailing the interaction between Ellery and her husband French husband, Julien. In the other, A Brief Indiscretion, I liked exploring Ellery’s relationship with a long-lost lover. In the passages involving Julien, it was really important for me not to portray him as a bad guy or jerk. Also, I wanted to prove that Ellery was just as flawed as any other character in the book or as any human being is in general. On the one hand, two wrongs never make a right but on the other hand, when you’ve been betrayed by a spouse, sometimes it really just sucks to always take the “high road.” I would imagine that you’d want some kind of revenge. We all make mistakes for any number of reasons, but the act may not make us bad people necessarily.
Is there a back story for A Haunting in Courbevoie?
Actually, there is a back story to A Haunting in Courbevoie. Of all of the stories written, A Haunting in Courbevoie and Some Birds of a Feather contain the most truthful information. While living in Paris in 2006, my mother did pass away suddenly, during the early morning hours. When one loses a parent, it’s very scary. It is especially so for expatriates because you live so far away and there is nothing you can do about it. You feel guilty for not being where you ought to be, so I could really relate to Ellery’s feelings. At the time, I did live in the town of Courbevoie, which is just two metro stops outside of Paris, near the business district, La Defense. There was an old Catholic Church in my neighborhood call Saint Pierre Saint Paul. On the morning that my mother died, I did visit the church and encounter a figure, much like the one described in the story. I cannot say for certain whether or not the woman was a ghost, but I can say that I had never seen her before that day, and I have never seen her since. So I let others draw their conclusions.
How long did it take you to write the story?
After nearly eight years of procrastination it only took me two months to write the book actually. I wrote on the weekends. Over the years, I had been writing snippets here and there – on napkins; on the inside cover of books, but nothing cohesive. Then one day, with a really big push from family and friends both overseas and back home, I realized that I needed to finish at least one story. But to do so, I had to admit that I wasn't really interested in writing a novel at all. I just wanted to tell some good stories. Once I made peace with that revelation, the pressure was off and I could concentrate on writing short stories with connecting characters and themes.
When was it released?
Encounters in Paris – A Collection of Short Stories was released on November 5, 2010.
Where can we find it? Online, book stories, your website?
Now, it is widely available on at many online bookstores in a variety of different formats. For example, the paperback version is available online directly at CarolynMoncel.com, as well as online book retailers, Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com and GoodReads.com and soon on Google Books and Borders.com. Customers can read excerpts. Encounters in Paris is also available in all digital formats as an e-book at Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, GoodReads.com and Smashwords.com and soon iBook.com. On Amazon.com for instance, customers can even choose to download the entire eBook or purchase an individual story as flash fiction. In January 2011, some eBook sets will contain bonus stories and previews of the next book. Also in January 2011, a shorter, three-story audio book version of Encounters in Paris will be available on Amazon.com, Audible.com and also PodioBooks.com.
What was your publishing experience like?
The publishing experience so far has been awesome. It is has been an exciting experience and I learn something new every day. In my case, I didn’t bother sending out query letters to publishers or agents simply because through my research, I knew that most would not be interested in a collection of short stories. However, I also believe there is a huge disconnect between publishers and readers. There is a market for this type of work, especially in this increasingly mobile world in which we live, and that was enough for me to move forward anyway – despite the risks. I purposely decided to self publish because I wanted to have more control over my work. I had watched other friends and colleagues self publish with relative success. Each year it becomes easier and more affordable to self publish so I figured if I could create a high-quality work, it was worth a try.
Did your background in media help you with your decision to self publish?
Yes, I think my background in media and web consulting has been very helpful but it hasn’t made the journey that much easier. Breaking into the publishing world is tough. I am still learning so much about that world, and well, self publishing is its own animal. At first, I was a really overwhelmed by the entire project. Then one day, I decided to calm down and do one thing at a time. As I worked through the project, I realized that everything that I’ve needed done with this project, I have already done at some point in my career. I have prepared layouts for client manuscripts; I have edited books and other documents; I have written and assembled media kits; I have built and coded websites and last I have pitched stories to the media. I figured if I could do these things for my clients, then I could do it for myself. That has been a huge comfort as I continue to progress and learn. For other authors who find themselves in the same situation, they should learn to trust their instincts because they have way more skills than they ever imagined and that’s exciting. The only thing that I would have done differently is I would have planned the release. Out of sheet excitement, I violated my own rules of PR! Once I started writing and finished the collection, I forgot to plan out some of the marketing, like acquiring reviews in advance. Now that I know what is expected, I will take what I’ve learned and do a better job with my second work.
Are you working on any new projects?
Yes, I am working on a new collection of short stories called Five Reasons to Leave a Lover. It will be out in fall 2011. One day recently, I was walking down the street and heard Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways to Leave a Lover.” I thought, well that song is only half right. The ways in which to leave a lover are infinite, but the reasons are pretty finite. At the end of the day, it usually boils down to death, divorce, cheating, deception, and ambivalence. So I decided to write a fresh batch of stories surrounding these themes and Ellery and Julien Roulet from Encounters in Paris return in this series, providing further explanation into their story, but there are new characters as well.
Where we can we find you online?
Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/carolyn.moncel;
Join the Encounters in Paris Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/pages/Encounters-in-Paris-A-Collection
and on Twitter: http://twitter.com/carolynmoncel
What other publicity events are in your future?
I have some book signings planned in both Paris and Geneva, Switzerland in January 2011. The exact dates will be available soon so please check http://www.carolynmoncel.com/ for more details.
Thank you so much for sharing your story with Page Readers! Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to share my story with your readers. It was such a treat and continued success!