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Scenario: moving to Paris to write.
Is there a default definition and image in your head when you read that?
There certainly was for me, and it involved: sitting on café terraces, wearing scarves (you know this is true, look how many scarves I brought to Paris!), gradually running out of money because there’s something bohemian and romantic about that (this book captures that perfectly: Time Was Soft There), and dressing casually all the time.
If I was a writer in New York City however, then perhaps my writer self would be closer to Carrie Bradshaw. But in Paris? Definitely the first description.
But that’s stupid!
I’ve realized the above stupidity after almost a month in Paris (my four-week anniversary is on Friday—time flies!).
Initially I tried to maintain the first “writer description” but found it difficult, because I felt like some of my behaviour was conflicting with “bohemi-topia.”
Like that time I was taken to a shoe store that specializes specifically in wedge shoes (yes!), and I simply could not help myself (I would’ve posted a picture of my feet in the shoes, but I’d prefer not to cater to the foot-fetish readers—and I know you’re out there, don’t think you can hide with your comment-free lurker blog visits! ). There was also the time I tried on ten-thousand-dollar earrings at Chanel in Place Vendome, because obviously I’m going to need earrings for my next book’s launch party in Paris! (Yes, I did post a picture of these, which means I’m probably now catering to readers with an earlobe fetish—and I know you’re out there too). And finally, when my new friend and resident Paris expert took me out to Plaza Athenée for fancy cocktails in the form of popsicles, I embraced that too, which meant finding myself next to a couple who snobbily brought their dog to this swanky hotel bar, only for their snobbery to be validated by a neatly-dressed waiter who arrived with a steel bowl of water (to satiate the canine’s thirst).
And all of the above was so much fun!
Despite my joy, I regarded the events as a shameful secret. I tried to hide my shopping bags when I attended an open mic later that night, and I didn’t dare speak of the exorbitantly-priced cocktails to my writer pals.
So who was I then? A material girl only posing as a writer?
Well no…because I also write in Paris. I have an outline for book three pinned up as a long row of Post-It notes on my closet, and I’ve been writing this blog twice a week, which is already inspiring the fiction (may the names be changed and the events somewhat altered, haha!). I also started putting down pages for the book’s first draft. Best of all, I read some brand new material for an audience at Spoken Word in Paris on Monday night, and I can’t even describe how exhilarating it was to share my work (not to mention watching so many other talented writers read their stuff).
So then…is it bohemian wordsmith or Carrie Bradshaw? Which is it dammit?!
Neither, or both…or who the hell cares?
The great thing about Paris is that so many other dreamers are here to make their own stuff happen, that no one gives a crap how you get your stuff done, or what you do for fun in-between, because there really are no labels beyond the thing you do; and for me, I write. Whatever else, no one cares. And I love that. It’s also highly possible that no one cared about these things back home, but since I spent so many years, hours, and days with the default professional label of “corporate rat” (which ultimately described how I dressed and what coffee I drank), I accidentally packed some stereotypes into my luggage on the way to Paris.
So now for the truth: I like basement bars and seeing writers perform their work, and I also like shoes. That’s perfectly fine, there’s a place for me in Paris, and there’s really no need to categorize it any further.
There’s also no need to assign any labels to people, since labels only belong on clothes I can’t afford (but will still try on…because it’s fun).
I noticed it the first day I arrived in Paris, in the form of a Canadian flag not too far from my apartment. It belonged to the “Abbey Book Shop,” and it was something I instantly connected to, in this city where I didn’t know a soul. Due to various circumstances (crazed insomnia, an entire day at the Louvre), I wasn’t drawn back to my country’s flag until day number three.
And this time I went inside.
If you can imagine a cross between a library from the Middle Ages and something out of Harry Potter, that’s how this bookstore felt to me. The overflowing shelves, the narrow winding aisles, the warm lighting, the rare books and the beautiful books, not to mention the stone-walled basement that seemed like a cave…it was nothing short of enchanting.
The shop was opened by a Canadian in 1989, and as he directed me to the Hemingway books I was looking for (required Paris reading) we got to talking. He was so full of knowledge and interesting facts, it was almost like he himself was a book, minus the “old-book-smell” and thin layer of dust (not that there’s anything wrong with “old-book-smell,” actually I love it and would wear it as perfume). After he explained that his shop carries the version of “The Sun Also Rises” with the original title of “Fiesta” (I told you, he’s full of facts!), he invited me to come back at seven p.m., for cider with a few of his friends. Once I finally understood that cider is not apple cider, I did that whole “North American thing,” where you’re thankful for the invite but you’ll just have to check on this, that, or the other before you can see if it’s possible.
He rolled his eyes at me.
I quickly understood the eye-roll, because where I come from we “schedule things in” with such detail and so far in advance, that spontaneous invites three hours before seem almost laughable, in the face of our regimented lives.
Against all regimented instincts, I came back at seven p.m.
What I found was a little table outside of this little book shop. There the owner chatted away, with an audience of Canadians that included a couple in their forties, and a guy doing some crazy-complicated-sounding doctorate or PhD about the seventeenth century (I am probably screwing up the title, sorry Mr. Smart-Man!). I could tell you the specialization, but then he might lose his anonymity…moving on!
So this, on day three, was the first time I’d spoken to anyone in Paris outside of a store clerk.
And three hours flew by like minutes.
The end of the first hour had its share of North American default statements like “we should really be going soon,” but the magic of Paris easily dissolved those echoes, ’til we settled into this world where human interaction isn’t rushed.
Pretty soon, the book shop became (and remains) a permanent fixture in my Paris life. The quick chats on my way to or from a jog, the delicious coffee the owner makes for his customers (not the kind of service you get back home unless you’re paying for a Starbucks!), and the memorable book shop “street parties,” that last far into the night. I’ve seen guitar performances, I’ve had wonderful discussions on writing with a successful author (whose memoir “The Traveller” I recently started reading—it’s addictive!), I’ve met cool Romanians, Swiss men, French men (don’t expect any juicy sentences to follow, I’m just describing nationalities), Americans, and some other Canadians too. Most importantly, it’s the specific kind of people I’ve met, which this book shop consistently attracts: writers, art history majors, thinkers…sometimes it feels like the shop is the center of the Renaissance period. Other times it feels like it holds the remnants of Gertrude Stein’s salon from the Lost Generation. None of us are Hemingway but we don’t even need to be, because having a place that feels even one percent like THAT when the world we’re living in is ninety-nine percent like THIS (insert any image of a Kardashian)…well that’s my version of modern-day magic.
The best part of all is that the “writer network” at Abbey Book Shop introduced me to a writers’ open mic, which happens in a basement bar once a week. If it wasn’t for finding that Canadian flag and meeting those writers, I would not be producing and presenting my writing by week four in Paris (and yes, I’m actually presenting this week!).
So how can I not believe in fate?
The irony of it all is that I DID have a book shop in mind when I arrived in Paris. It was the famous “Shakespeare and Company” (not to be confused with the original shop from the 1920′s owned by Sylvia Beach); after reading so much about it I had this highly-romanticized view of spending entire days there and connecting with so many writers…little did I know that a totally different place I’d never even heard of would end up sweeping me away instead. That’s the magic of Paris, you never know what’s around the corner.
I did eventually make it over to Shakespeare and Co, for what turned out to be a very different experience. Not a bad one by any means, but…different.
I’ll tell you about it another time,
I was thinking of starting this blog post with the ol’ …holy crap I haven’t blogged in three months and this is what I’ve been doing and isn’t it interesting and here are some links for you to click on and AHHHHHHHHH!
That would be as bad as me asking a co-worker in the elevator how their weekend was, followed by us dying of the most boring conversation ever.
Oh wait…I AM going to tell you how my weekend was, because it’s pertinent, highly pertinent!
It starts with a vision of how I’ll be in Paris in 2013, and ends with me shedding a single manly tear, because I never take the time to appreciate the city that’s influenced so much of my writing.
And that leads me to my Toronto List. This is not exactly a bucket list and I’m not exactly a large-foreheaded man with a crazy smile who starred in a movie called “The Bucket List.” This is about a woman who spent so many hours inside a Starbucks WRITING about the Toronto she used to experience, she kind of got too busy to stop and enjoy it in the last year or so.
And so, armed with two BFFs and a pair of ear muffs (it was cold outside), off we went!
First we needed to have breakfast at one of the best (if not best) breakfast places in Toronto. I had been here once before, but only this weekend did I realize it was voted the best breakfast place in Toronto. It’s called Auntie and Uncle’s, and boy does it give you that down-home feeling. I loved the vintage feeling of old signs on the wall, but what I loved even more were the oatmeal and banana pancakes which are the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life! You must go.
I just remembered the coffee place we went to before breakfast (this is what happens when I write my blog posts on the fly, it’s like a real conversation..what fun!). This place was called “Manic Coffee and Gelato,” and it was so NOT a Starbucks! They make a mean cappuccino and people play intense chess at the back table. I think the guy with the beard was winning.
Another thing I’ve always wanted to do was ride a streetcar to a bunch of different places. I know that sounds weird, but I always take the subway underground, so going off the beaten path and taking an above-ground streetcar was an adventure! What I learned from that adventure is that crazy people have crazy-loud conversations on their cellphones. Like YELLING conversations about paying child support to your various bastard children and about how can this chick not afford to buy a couch with her welfare check?! Couches are not that expensive. And some instances of “DAMNNN girl” thrown in. I guess this is the difference between not having cell phone reception on a subway, and…madness .
After that we headed to the famous Christmas Market in Toronto’s Distillery District. I hadn’t been here in the longest time, and had never before seen the Christmas Market. This place is full of old-school charm which makes me happy, and it’s one of the few big areas where no cars are allowed. My highlights here were riding a ferris wheel as a grown up, singing along as Toronto tried to break the world record for most people caroling at once (if I figure out how to post the video on WordPress I’ll add it here), and trying what was voted Toronto’s best hot chocolate at Soma Chocolate (it was divine!). There was also a big outdoor beer garden with outdoor couches and fire bowls, the perfect place to snuggle up with a first date (or a fiftieth date if you’re trying to re-kindle the flame, everyone has different needs).
After that my most awesome friend cooked a bunch of us girls a fabulous dinner, and with our bellies full of fat we did the most magical Canadian thing of all…
…We went ice-skating!
I’d been ice-skating at city hall before, but never at the Harbourfront Centre by the water, so this was a new experience for me. I was starting to catch a cold that day, but it didn’t matter, because as soon as I got on the ice I felt like an Indian kid discovering ice for the first time…what magic! I wasn’t that great, but I didn’t wipe out even once, and sometimes I skated at speeds that scared the hell out of me; it’s good to get scared sometimes.
Speaking of being scared, my intentions on appreciating Toronto in the present have a lot to do with how huge and crazy my dreams for the future really are. YES, I want to go to Paris in 2013 for some undetermined amount of time, and YES I need to keep writing new things to be challenged. When I thought about that, I realized I hadn’t written anything since “Last-Minute Love” came out, and that made me feel uncomfortably…comfortable. I got so caught up in promoting the book and the business side of things, that I forgot about spending time writing and wondering if it’ll turn out as crap and did I waste all this time and what if nothing I write is ever funny again and ahhhhhhh….I LOVE that fear! I sort of lost my connection with that when I focused on being “finished” with a project, but now that I’m coming up to 5,000 sales (around 4,900 now…can I round up?) I realize that this milestone means something. It means that I’m a writer for LIFE. I mean last December I was celebrating 1,000 sales, so coming up on 5,000 a year later is a big deal for little ol’ self-published me.
But I’m not ready to make myself a cocktail and bask in it. I’m ready to be proud of myself and forge ahead, to the next thing that people will secretly laugh at when they realize it’s my dream:
-I’m adapting “Year of the Chick” into a screenplay
People always told me the first book felt like a movie, and now I’m going to see if that’s right. Even though I wrote a screenplay last year and it advanced in several contests, I’m still a real novice, but will that stop me? NO! I say this out-loud to myself, whenever I think about how all the big publishers rejected me, and now I’ve reached almost 5,000 sales on my own. It was just as impossible a goal, so this is my next impossible goal. Once I get feedback on my screenplay and edit it, I’m going to submit it to The Black List, where your screenplay gets rated for potential reading by one (or a few) of the 1,000 industry professionals that use the site. Even though the average rating is 5.23 out of 10, and even though every website and every screenwriting guru and every successful screenwriter and every other hopeful will temper your enthusiasm with the cold hard facts that you’ll probably never make it…that’s okay. There’s a certain part of being a dreamer where you take in all that info and all the realism, but you STILL practice your Golden Globe award speech in the shower with the shampoo bottle playing the part of the trophy. That’s really strange for me since my shampoo bottle is round and doesn’t look like an Oscar or Golden Globe, but I have a pretty good imagination (and now you know what shampoo I use…why don’t I just give you my address and phone number too?). I guess what I’m trying to say is…if you never take the time to imagine your impossible dreams, you’ll only ever get what you already have.
And I’m not a 5.23 out of 10.
So do the hard work and learn all the rules, but remember to make the most of your time in the shower (feel free to interpret that in the usual gross ways).
Keep smiling and keep making people feel uncomfortable by pretending you’re the first all-female pairs figure skating team in the Olympics….see you in 2013!
My love affair with New York has been a vast and varied experience. From an enraged lady with a wooden stick chasing me along Fifth Avenue in 2010, to serial-killer types with no shoes on in Central Park in 2011.
In both those instances, the true highlight of my visits was buried deep within the blog lines I wrote, so buried in fact, that you couldn’t have even guessed what it was really all about:
Oh yes…the manly embrace, the knee-weakening cologne, the hair-that-does-not-look-as-styled-as-my-hair-so-I-don’t-feel-threatened…the sweet, glorious male specimen!
Somewhere along the way, my “guy component” of New York City was ripped right out of town and equally ripped from my heart, which basically left me in shreds, not unlike the stringy pulled pork revered amongst sandwich enthusiasts. I could have stayed like that, as useless gutted remnants, but God (the very same God who prioritizes rap artists winning Grammys over world issues (“I’d like to thank God, for this award…”)) put my pieces back together, and that’s how I escaped the “dark zone.”
Oh wait…it wasn’t God, it was actually ME, who woke up one day and told myself “If life goes ahead and turns you into shredded pulled pork, then you gotta become the best damn sandwich EVER!”
And that’s exactly what I did.
So even though I smell like stale BBQ sauce and onions pretty much all the time, I turned some bad into some good by converting my troubles into a screenplay then a book (which I have blogged about many times , so I digress).
There was always one tricky thing left to deal with though…and that was a return to New York City (aka “nostalgia nightmare”).
I’d been avoiding a trip to New York City for a good year and a half, always feeling relieved when my planned visits would fall through, and always hoping my friends would be too busy to see me. And who WOULDN’T want to avoid it? The laughter, the endless conversations, the manly embrace I spoke of before, and etc. and etc. and etc. that shall not be named.
Last month though, with an open spot in the back seat of my sister and husband’s car (and an unprecedented chance to annoy them for four days straight by being an official third wheel)…I went back to the city of equal parts dreams and nightmares.
This would be the section where I meaningfully tell you how I overcame my demons, danced through the East Village on a rainy afternoon (with the song “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” playing in the background), and got my groove back by one-night-standing a twenty-year-old sailor.
In reality it was a lot simpler, because New York City made it easy to have a wonderful time, when I followed these few simple steps:
1. Do cardio. That’s right, bike-riding for a couple hours in Central Park released so many “happy” endorphins, that I wanted to be friends with EVERYONE (which is weird because I’m generally not friendly).
2. Eat drumsticks. Or any kind of amazing soul food (though I can now enthusiastically recommend Red Rooster in Harlem). This is the perfect answer to doing a couple of hours of cardio on vacation, because what kind of LOSER does cardio on vacation? And also, because food was like the warm manly embrace I’d so dearly missed (even though a drumstick-hug will nine times out of ten leave me tired…and fat).
3. Look at art, or sarcophagi, or anything else that makes you feel smart, because intelligence is a good distraction from “crazy, stupid, love” (ohhh how I love Ryan Gosling, I’ve waited a year to use that title in a sentence!). I had initially planned to avoid museums, since my memories of New York with the male specimen involved “museuming,” but once I arrived I remembered how much I loved art and history before he ever came along, and dammit you will NOT take that away from me! (but I still went to a DIFFERENT museum, since I’m not a glutton for punishment).
4. Go to a neighbourhood bar in the West Village that’s bursting with charm, and order a drink that’s described AND tastes like liquid cinnamon apple pie. It’s apple pie and it’s a buzz, dude; need I say more?
5. Friends. Friends make everything better. I know I said earlier that I’m not friendly—which is true—but when I DO find people to be friends with, they mean as much to me as baby cubs to her lioness, and/or I would fight to the death in a gladiator arena to defend any one of my friends (I chose both a “cuddly” and “vicious” analogy, to appeal to all blog reader types; you’re welcome).
All in all, New York City is the grandest place of all, a place bigger than all humans, memories, and heart-shredding. It’s a place that can nurture new experiences, while still leaving room for the past, because even though male specimens come and go, the magic while it lasted is a thing to be remembered, not feared (something I finally realized by the time I came home). And now that I’ve overcome my fear, I hope to go back there many more times (and eventually buy a place in the West Village when I’m a bestselling author!).
In other news… I would like to virtually hug all the readers of my “Year of the Chick” series. New York City and living in the moment is what book two in the series is all about, and because of you amazing readers, I should hit 2,000 copies sold of “Last-Minute Love” by the end of September—less than four months since the release! None of these copies were free, oh no, you awesome readers chose to buy them, and for an independent author like myself, a number like that means the world to me! My dreams are coming true every day, but without each and every reader that wouldn’t be possible…THANK YOU!
Right then, on with autumn, my favourite season, because autumn is when I most feel like a writer (since it gives me the chance to wear sparkly scarves, long shirts, skinny jeans and tall boots, a.k.a. the writer uniform!!). Only one question remains: have YOU had your first pumpkin spice latte of the season?
When the sequel to “Year of the Chick” named “Last-Minute Love” said hello to the world on June 7th, whilst dripping in literary amniotic fluid and still attached to the thick corded noodle of my brain (gross imagery, I live for it), I felt so incredibly relieved. Obviously it was weird to have readers flipping through the pages of a slimy book that was still attached to my brain, but it was out there and my work was done…at last!
On the day of the release, I kept telling everyone how I would sleep like a baby for a while. Once our conversation faded out into everyday topics like whether or not gelato is the same as eating fruit (yes it is so we can have it always), I imagined how babies wake up often in the middle of the night, for seemingly endless bodily functions and boob-access.
I can’t remember when I last thought about having access to someone else’s boobs, because A: Growing out of “babyhood” means a plethora of meal options besides breast milk and B: last I checked, I wasn’t a lesbian (I check often via lingering stares towards females on the subway, just to make sure there’s nothing stirring inside—so far, status quo). As for bodily functions, I am accident-free until further notice.
So fine, I slept like an adult who’d been living two lives non-stop to get this sequel released, and who could finally exchange late nights and energy drinks for drool-heavy sleep and black tea (I know, I know, why not green tea? Everyone talks about the benefits of green tea, but let’s be honest, “once you go black, you never go back”—it took me years to finally realize that phrase is in reference to tea).
So here we are…day five of the sequel release, (officially day four and a half), and I’ve got great news to share so far!
First: I’ve sold 100 copies in only five days!
This is a big number for a “do-it-yourself” author like me, especially because it took me two and a half months to sell that many copies of book one! And so, even when sales slow down, I’m confident I’ll eventually out-sell book one, so hooray! I achieved my growth goal by putting on my marketing hat, and making book one free when the sequel came out. This worked out great for me exposure-wise, as well as ”I just finished reading book one and now I must read the second”-wise. Therefore, I encourage all self-published authors with a series to try out Amazon’s “KDP Select” program (where in exchange for three months of exclusivity, you can make your book free for five days).
The other great news is the incredible feedback I’ve received in just a few days. It’s amazing to hear from new fans on my Facebook page, as they describe how they stayed up late reading one or both of my books. It is also as intimidating as heck (I love how I say “heck” right now as if I never drop f-bombs in real life or in my books), because suddenly book three is supposed to magically appear….when I wasn’t even planning on writing it until 2013.
And I won’t start writing it sooner, dammit. Not until I move to Paris.
And so, as part of the Romi-out-reach program, please tell your friends about the series in-between your casual conversations about how healthy gelato is, because word-of-mouth is the difference between a nobody and a mommy-porn superstar like E L James!
PS: I don’t think I could write erotica if I tried, so DON’T ASK.
For new readers to my blog who don’t know: the “Year of the Chick” series is about a quest to find love to avoid arranged marriage. It’s full of awkward family moments, blunt conversations on dating, and forbidden love (especially book two!). It’s also *cough* loosely based on real life…