Posts by Paige

The Martian

Posted on November 3, 2015

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Photo: 20th Century Fox

Confession: Lately, I’ve been thinking about Mars.

Part of the reason I’ve been thinking about Mars is because my daughter, her best friend and I played hooky from school and work on a recent Monday and went to go see Ridley Scott’s “The Martian.”

Don’t tell on us, please.

I hate to spoil this for anyone who has not seen the flick, but this is not about a real live actual extraterrestrial being. “The Martian,” which is based on the novel by Andy Weir, is about a really resourceful and funny American astronaut named Mark Watney who has to figure out how to survive after his cohorts leave him for dead on the Red Planet.

Do not judge them. In the midst of a bad situation, they actually thought Watney was dead.

So the other reason I’ve been thinking about Mars is because I have moments when I think that this astronaut’s experience is sort of (kind of) similar to that of a first-time author. You find yourself in new and challenging circumstances, but you have to calm down (no, really…CALM DOWN) and focus on the situation day by day using all the resources and skills and knowledge that you have in order to reach the finish line.

Some days are encouraging, exciting, inspiring.

Some days you blow things up trying to make water and wonder whether you’re fit to make it. (Don’t get me started…)

But in the face of those setbacks, there is always tomorrow if you haven’t messed up too terribly badly. So you adjust. You go forward. You do your best.

And so it goes.

Have you ever had one of those moments when you found yourself in Watney-esque circumstances? If so, what happened and what steps did you take to survive and thrive? Also (and I have to ask): What was your soundtrack? Watney’s was disco, much to his chagrin. Mine is Duran Duran’sPaper Gods.” Yours? Let me know in comments.

My Space

Posted on October 22, 2015

workspace

Miriam wrote about how work spaces can impact the quantity and quality of your creative work. This is a picture of my office, taken about a year ago when, I’ll confess, it was tidier than it is now. Right now, it is full of stacks of things, from folders of first draft, to notecards full of stuff I’ve pulled from primary documents, to printouts and piles of books that are tucked behind this comfy office chair.  Not pictured: the mint julep cup that holds my pens and pencils, the picture of my daughter in Paris eating a piece of cotton candy that’s the size of her arm, the knitting projects I pick up when I’m waiting, frustrated or simply trying to sort out something that bedevils me on the page.

Here are some fun mice I made for bad cats:

mice

What I like about my office: the pale yellow walls (my choice), the soft sunlight that streams in through the window, the relative quiet I have for the better part of the day. There’s a vintage agricultural map of the Loire River valley hanging behind my desk, a picture of my sister and me when we were kids, a sand dollar I plucked from the beach in California on a girls trip I took five years ago, a Napoleon-shaped brandy snifter (empty) that another friend gave me in jest, a Deborah Harry Barbie doll, beautiful art from my child, and various other mementos that inspire me or put a smile on my face.

Which is not to say that there aren’t distractions.

For example (and this one is minor), if I don’t close my door, chances are this guy will stare at me and whine to be let in…until he whines to be let back out:

murray

When my office door is closed, sometimes I can hear him on the other side of it, panting and/or whining to be let in. When I open the door, he spreads out on the Turkish carpet underneath my desk, groans and snores for about twenty minutes, until he makes for the door (pictured above) and whines to be let back out…until he whines to be let back in.

Such is the life of a dog mom.

But I’m also a kid mom, and a wife, among other things, and I’ve tried to find ways to have the time I need in this office so that I’m still present for the people in my orbit. Admittedly, some days are better than others. My cell phone these days is turned off more than it is on. I’m grateful for the people in my life who understand why and know that it’s only temporary. I’m grateful for the people in my life who are outside of my office door when I open it at the end of the day. For all of the things that need to be done in this office between now and my manuscript deadline of June 1, 2016, it’s the people outside of it that are helping me reach this next milestone, little by little and in various ways. Much gratitude to them.

What is your office like? What makes it work for you and your productivity? How do prevent distractions? How you balance your time when you’re immersed in a large project? Let me know in comments.

#AmWriting

Posted on October 8, 2015

IMG_0918

 

That stack of papers on the top of this file? Half of a first draft. Yes, I need to double the size of this stack in the next month or so. But the most important thing right now is to get it down. When it’s down, you can go back in and cut and paste and rearrange and tighten and that sort of thing.

Anyway, this is my current situation in paper form. Pretty exciting! But there’s still a lot to do.

Schooled

Posted on October 6, 2015

freefrance

 

The past month has been busy, between the work I’ve been doing on my book and the class I’ve been teaching for LSU Continuing Education. I’ve spent the past four weeks talking about the French Resistance with a truly lovely and engaged group of folks. Judging from some of their questions, comments and the like, I suspect there may be a massive run on resistance histories and memoirs over the course of the next week or so. So I am tickled as can be about their interest in the subject and, most importantly, their continued support of my classes. If any of them are reading this now, a big, big thank you for trusting me with your mornings. Until we meet again…

fightersintheshadows Now, part of one’s ability to become a figure worthy of a group’s trust is a willingness to not only admit that one has goofed up, but actually go about the business of fixing one’s blunder. And class, I misspoke yesterday when I said Robert Gildea’s Fighters in the Shadows was coming out today. I could say that in my zeal to read this tome, my error was aspirational, i.e. “Dear Lord me, I really hope that Dr. Gildea’s book comes out today because I have been reading so many fantastic reviews about it all over the place, that I just can’t take waiting any longer.” But sadly, the truth is quite simple. This was a case of my very own and very human error. When I went to Amazon to order it this morning, I found that Gildea’s book is not, in fact, out in the United States until November 30. Surely there will be oodles and oodles of more fantastic reviews that will make this wait even more torturous for me and for the others who may have gone online today in search of this bloody thing that their well-meaning instructor told them about in class. Know that you are not suffering in solitude, my friends. May this tome be the gift we give each other this coming holiday season. Vive la Resistance!

In the meantime, I will be reading Patti Smith’s latest memoir M Train because I loved Just Kids oh so very much. Unlike Fighters In The Shadows, M Train actually did come out today.

What are you reading right now? Anything that has captured your imagination? Please let me know what it is and why I can’t live without it in comments.

***

nasaspecialedition

One of the more recent freelance assignments I’ve taken on was for USA Today, which does an annual NASA Special Edition. This is the second consecutive piece I’ve done for them on the agency’s exoplanet research initiatives, which never cease to capture my imagination, especially considering recent reports about the discovery of water on Mars. Is there life out there beyond our planet? The people I’ve talked to for this story are devoting themselves to this question, and it seems we’re getting closer and closer to an answer which very well could be “Yes.”

***

IMG_0903

 See these little nuggets of amazing? They are cocoa sables and I brought a few dozen of them to my class yesterday morning. I live in a household of chocoholics, so when I found the recipe for these cookies in Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Tablethey became a pretty beloved sweet (but not too sweet). They’re crumbly and buttery and rich with dark chocolate flavor. They’re just as good served with a cold glass of milk as they are with a nice Malbec.

Here’s the recipe:

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed

1/2 tsp salt

2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature

2/3 cup of sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/4 lb. semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (the recipe says this is optional, but I believe it’s a must)

 

1. Whisk the flour, cocoa and salt together.

2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until soft and smooth. Gradually add the sugar and keep beating, scraping the bowl as needed, until the mixture is creamy, but not airy. Mix in the vanilla.

3. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture, little by little, making sure the ingredients are well-incorporated. Then, stir in the chopped chocolate.

4. Scrape the dough onto a cutting board and divide in half. Roll each piece into a log, then wrap the logs in plastic wrap and chill for at least three hours.

5. Preheat the oven to 350. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

6. Slice the logs into 1/2-inch thick cookies. Arrange them on the baking sheets, leaving a good amount of space between the rounds.

7. Bake for 15 to 18 minutes. Then transfer the cookies to racks to cool to room temperature.

Enjoy!

Vive la Resistance!

Posted on September 2, 2015

femaleresistantes

I’ve been sourcing photos both for an upcoming class and for my book and came across this gem: three female resisters patrolling a street in France during World War II. Although my class starts in two weeks, some eager students have reached out to me about extra reading materials (!!!). So far, I’ve steered them toward the Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale , a recently released — and lovely — novel about two sisters and the choices they had to make during the Occupation. One student emailed me after she was done and said she could barely see the last chapter, she was crying so hard. So I recommended it to two other students, and am eagerly awaiting their reactions too.

(Rubs hands together in perverse delight).

Ronald Rosbottom’s When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940-1944 is another recent(ish) release that I’ve been pushing on the curious hordes. What I liked most about this is Dr. Rosbottom’s depiction of how ordinary — and not-so-ordinary — Parisians coped with life under the Nazis. He uses a lot of rich detail here, from a wide range of sources, so I’m hoping folks make a point of diving into this too. It’s very well done.

I’ve also tossed out various memoirs written by French resisters, and other books based on my students’ area of interest from this period. I look forward to seeing what they bring up in class after diving into this extra work and anticipate that our time together will fly right by.

Any books (fiction or nonfiction) you might add to the mix about the French Resistance, Occupation of Paris or World War 2?  Let me know in comments.

 

On Guarding Your Writing Time

Posted on September 1, 2015

chienmechant

 

The writer Zadie Smith has some wise words about your writing time. She advises: “Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it.”

We have rearranged some things in our household to get me the writing time I need. But, I wonder whether I should find one of these vintage French warning signs for mean dogs to hang on the door to my office.

You know, just in case…

Coffee Talk

Posted on August 31, 2015

writer

 

A friend of mine forwarded me this picture over the weekend.

I thought it was funny.

But then I realized I had a deep, dark secret.

Would you like to hear it?

Here goes: I can’t drink coffee like I did when I was younger.

You are full of shock and awe, aren’t you? Because what self-respecting writer can’t guzzle cup after cup of Joe?

(Raises hand sheepishly. Waits for your disapproval and jeers.)

I had a good run, folks. Really, I did. And it was a run fueled by 4-5 cups of coffee a day.

But these days all I can manage is a cup of dark roast (black) in the morning. Anything more than that and you’ll have to peel me off the ceiling. Lionel Richie may be able to dance there, but as a writing space, ceilings just don’t work for me.

Go ahead. Call me Ole One Cup. I won’t mind, especially since i just got “Dancing in the Ceiling” stuck in your head.

You’re welcome, by the way.

The good news is that despite this inability to get my coffee on in the mornings (or even the afternoons), I’ve churned out 20,950 words so far. That’s almost one-quarter of the manuscript that’s due on June 1, 2016. Not all of those words are perfect. But they are down and that’s the most important thing. You cannot revise, refine and rearrange anything unless it is down on paper.

Although I may not know as many baristas as I used to, I’ll take little victories like these when and where I can.

Your turn: Do you have a deep dark secret you’d like to share? If so, what is it? Otherwise, tell me about a little victory you’ve had recently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, what’s the deal?

Posted on August 23, 2015

My author packet from Chicago Review Press.

My author packet from Chicago Review Press.

When I shared the news about my forthcoming – and very first – book a couple of weeks ago, many people expressed their congratulations and wished me well.

I continue to be grateful for the goodwill and support I’ve received.

In the midst of all this excitement, I’ve also gotten a lot of questions online and in person about everything from manuscript deadlines to work-life balance. I’ll try to address some of those in this space every week, so please don’t hesitate to ask me anything you’d like to know, from how to craft book proposals, to finding an agent, to book recommendations and anything else that may be on your mind.

Here’s how you can send me your questions:

You can reach me at this site.

You can also give me a shout-out on Twitter.

And you can find me on my new author page on Facebook.

If you think that any of this might be something a friend or family member might be interested in, please don’t hesitate to share it with them. At the end of the day, I like telling stories and I like helping people when and where I can.

So I’ve gotten this question a number of times and I’d like to address it here:

“Weren’t you pitching a book about a guy who built an opera house in Paris?”

I was.

However, this time last year I learned one of my first and most humbling lessons about publishing: Your first book proposal doesn’t always result in your first book.

I would be telling you a big fat lie if I said learning this lesson was easy.

It wasn’t.

As a matter of fact, it sucked.

But my agent has this very useful mantra. That mantra is: Onward. “Onward” got me through my initial disappointment. “Onward” fueled my brainstorming for a new proposal idea. “Onward” sparked my research and drove me through the writing of this new proposal. “Onward” took me out of the nineteenth century and plopped me squarely in the twentieth century, where I found a beautiful, bookish and incredibly brave teenager who was determined to fight for a certain idea of France.

How many times did my agent and I exchange emails over this past year, where she signed off with “Onward…”?

Too many times to count.

Before I knew it, I was signing off with “onward” too.

I am insanely grateful to Jane Dystel and for the role of this word in my life over the past year. Everyone faces setbacks. Everyone. You just have to make a cold hard decision about who you are and whether you’ll let these momentary defeats define you.

No matter what you face, know that there is a way through.

In the meantime, repeat after me: Onward…