romancier (ro man see ay) noun
: a novelist
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My name is Janet Skeslien Charles. I am a romancière from Montana who lives in Paris. In 1998, I came to France as une assistante d’anglais. Like many people who end up living in France, I intended to stay just one year, yet me voilà – here I am – twelve years later with my roman “Moonlight in Odessa” (Bloomsbury) just out in paperback. I feel very lucky to be a guest blogger for Kristin this week and hope that you will enjoy my posts.
From 1998 to 2004, I taught in three different schools in Ile de France, which is what the French call Paris and its surrounding suburbs. One school was an hour away from my apartment. I spent more time underground in the metro than I did above ground in the classroom, running from school to school. After six years, I decided to stop running and work on mon roman and lead an atelier d’écriture.
I wanted a mix of Anglophones and French adult students, but it wasn’t easy to attract French students at first. When I told French friends about my atelier d’écriture, this is how it usually went:
“I’m starting a writing workshop.”
“Bravo!” Emilie said. “Children these days need help with their penmanship.”
“It’s for adults.”
“Well,” she said. “Many adults could stand to improve their penmanship.”
“The workshop is about telling stories, not penmanship.”
I thought Emilie had understood, until she twirled her finger near her temple, making the universal sign for crazy. “You mean for adults who have problems.”
“My students don’t have problems!”
“No, of course not. I meant they’re… slow.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my students,” I said. “They want to be writers.”
“But writers are born, not made.”
Chantal was one of my first French students. She wrote beautiful essays about books and characters, describing them lovingly as friends. It was the first workshop she had taken and I think she was surprised by her own work and by the encouragement of her fellow writers. Each session, it is a pleasure to see people share their work, gain confidence, and improve their writing.
I believe that writing is a pleasure that we can all enjoy and that anyone who writes is a writer, whether it be observations in a journal, sharing our thoughts on a blog, or sending letters to friends. Musicians take classes to improve their technique, why can’t writers? Do you believe writers are born or made? Or perhaps a little of both?
It is challenging to be a un écrivain, finding le mot juste, finding the heart of a story or an essay, editing our own work and finding agents or editors. Many people fear being turned down. As I tell my writing students, rejection is a part of dating, looking for a job, and getting published. I show them rejections for a personal essay called “Interview in Paris” sent to ten literary journals. The first came within hours from Boston, the last came sixteen months later, also from Boston, with a word of praise. The largest rejection was one page long, the smallest a two inch by two inch scrap of paper. Write, edit, get feedback, edit, send out your work, repeat as needed.
It is rewarding to be un écrivain, finding the right word, finding the heart of a story, finding readers who love the piece as much as you do. Paris is a challenging and rewarding place to be a romancière. The city is nourishing yet full of delightful distractions. Here is my favorite kind: a café gourmand, a coffee served with three small desserts. Perfect as a small consolation in a moment of difficulty or as a reward to celebrate an unexpected victory.
My Belle-Mère was the first person to call me a romancière. We sat in her kitchen drinking coffee. She looked at me and said, “Just think, I have a romancière sitting across from me.” I loved the sound of the word. It sounded so romantic.
Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels of Fall 2009. It was Book of the Month in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler. BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime featured Moonlight in Odessa for two weeks in February 2010. Foreign language rights have been sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Iceland, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Denmark, and Spain. Moonlight in Odessa has been awarded the 2010 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance.
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romancier, romancière = a novelist
un(e) assistant(e) d’anglais = an English assistant
me voilà = here I am
Ile de France = Paris and its surrounding suburbs; "one of the twenty-six administrative regions of France, composed mostly of the Paris metropolitan area. Its name literally means "Island of France", possibly from ancient Frankish Liddle Franke, "little France". (--Wikipedia)
un atelier d’écriture = writing workshop
un écrivain = a writer
le mot juste = the right word
un roman = novel
un café gourmand = a coffee served with three small desserts
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For more online reading: The Lost Gardens: A Story of Two Vineyards and a Sobriety