Photo: Warner Bros. Entertainment

How Dunkirk Brought the de Gaulles Together Before France Fell

Posted on August 1, 2017

Christopher Nolan’s World War II tour de force “Dunkirk” has captivated moviegoers and reviewers since its release on July 21. It’s the story of the harrowing, heroic rescue of 400,000 Allied troops from the French port city of Dunkirk after German forces stormed into the country. Nolan’s film focuses on the rescue mission itself, not the aftermath in France. In THE GENERAL’S NIECE: THE LITTLE-KNOWN DE GAULLE WHO FOUGHT TO FREE OCCUPIED FRANCE , I write about the havoc Dunkirk wrought on the French population, and how it brought the de Gaulle family together before their beloved country fell to the Nazis. Here is an excerpt:

***

If there was to be a last stand in France against the German forces that laid waste to the country, some military men believed that it would take place in windswept Brittany. Xavier waited for his marching orders that June in a home that teemed with family members. Armelle, her two small children, Genevieve, and Roger awaited the arrival of Xavier’s frail, eighty-year-old mother, Jeanne, who was fleeing German attacks on the port of Le Havre, not far from where she lived with her daughter, Marie-Agnes; son-in-law, Alfred Cailliau; and their children. Jeanne had been a widow since May 3, 1932, when her husband, Henri, died at age eighty-two. In the years after Henri’s passing, Jeanne’s health had begun to decline too, and she became consumed with seeing her sons before war separated them again.

It was not an easy feat, given the situation on the ground. The German Luftwaffe had begun bombing Le Havre on May 19, 1940, and continued their attacks for the next two evenings. British troops fired antiaircraft guns as Nazi planes dropped bombs on warehouses, factories, shipyards, and Le Havre itself. When large numbers of Dutch and Belgian refugees began arriving in the town by train, locals panicked and thought that the Germans were winning. A dark mood descended over the public as air-raid sirens became commonplace.

The bombing continued in June when the British began evacuating at Dunkirk. Not all troops could be rescued, so they escaped to other ports along the country’s northern coast, striving to find a way back to England. Nazi planes tried to prevent their return by bombing Le Havre ten more times. Bedlam ensued as local officials tried to evacuate residents. Many wanted to flee incoming Nazis by heading for Brittany, but trains could not long travel in that direction because they had to go through the train station in Rouen, which was almost sixty miles to the east. That station was closed, but Jeanne was so determined to see her boys that she traveled 475 miles south to Grenoble to see her son Jacques before getting one of her grandsons to drive her 571 miles north to see Xavier.

After Jeanne’s arrival in Paimpont, nineteen-year-old Genevieve comforted the delicate old woman, whose anxiety gave way to vivid memories from her girlhood of France’s humiliation by the Prussians at Sedan in 1870. She felt like she was reliving those dark days, and her weakened heart couldn’t bear it. Her granddaughter reassured her that it wouldn’t happen like that, not again. Charles would come to visit his mother and Xavier’s family en route to London, where he’d meet with British prime minister Winston Churchill on June 15. After that visit Genevieve assured her grandmother that France would fight back — yes, right there in Brittany.

Brittany. The very shape of the peninsula on which the French army hung their dwindling hopes jutted out toward the English Channel and Atlantic Ocean like the hand of a drowning man begging for help. Two weeks before Petain’s radio address, the military devised a plan that would gather forces along Brittany’s Rance and Vilaine Rivers to fend off an enemy assault. As French troops kept up a stiff resistance along those rivers, allies from Great Britain could stream through the ports west of that line of defense to come to the country’s aid. A prolonged fight under this strategy would allow France to keep its lines of communication open with its allies and, in case of trouble, make it easier to relocate the state’s armed forces and government ministers to London or North Africa.

Two days after Petain addressed the nation, Charles de Gaulle, who had been recently appointed undersecretary of war and national defense, held secret meetings with commanders about the feasibility if this scheme. The overwhelming consensus: Such resistance was futile. There were simply not enough troops to hold off a German advance. General de Gaulle bid farewell to his wife and children. He was headed to London, he told them because things were very bad.

“Perhaps we are going to carry on the fight in Africa,” de Gaulle told his wife, Yvonne. “But I think it more likely that everything is about to collapse. I am warning you so that you will be ready to leave at the first sign.”

The signs were everywhere. After securing passports, Yvonne and the children left on June 18 to join Charles in England.

On the morning of June 18, Xavier de Gaulle and several other reservists were ordered to march west in an effort to regroup against the enemy. His family joined him on the crowded streets in an procession riddled with anger, shame and fear. All around them there was a growing feeling that whatever came next would be in vain. Genevieve lingered close to her grandmother, “this little old lady, dressed in black, so tiny and easy to miss,” so she didn’t fall behind and get lost in the crowd. Throughout the day the young woman reassured the matriarch, as she worked through her own tormented emotions about this turn of events.

By evening, they had walked forty miles to the town of Locmine and faced their first Nazi soldiers. They looked like war gods, Genevieve thought; their smart black uniforms and chiseled features exuded strength and pride as they breezed past on motorcycles and tanks. Some reservists cried because it was clear that there was no hope left and no will to fight this aggressor. As the crowd grew numb with dismay, a priest ran toward them from the other side of the town square. He was excited because he had just heard a French general speak on BBC radio.

“He said we may have lost a battle,” the priest cried, “but not the war. The general’s name was de Gaulle.”

Thrilled by the news, Jeanne de Gaulle, broke from the crowd and ran to the priest.

“Monsieur le Cure, that’s my son!” she cried as she tugged on the sleeve of his cassock. “That’s my son! He’s done what he ought to have done!”

A country away, Charles de Gaulle couldn’t have known how his mother reacted to his decision to offer France another way, but Genevieve remembered the moment as one of her grandmother’s last great joys. For Charles, it was a lonely affair, because as he heard himself speak into the BBC microphone, he realized his life would never be the same. Up until then he had been devoted to both the army and the nation he served. And yet he was not the sort of man to capitulate, which was why he had broken with his superiors and headed to London, to condemnation. At forty-nine years old, fate had lured him away from all his predictable patterns and responsibilities. He was obligated to the France he once knew, and he summoned his countrymen, uncertain of who might hear or put their trust in him.

Few people caught the general’s broadcast, but the ones who did began risking their lives to spread his word.

***

Excerpted from THE GENERAL’S NIECE: THE LITTLE-KNOWN DE GAULLE WHO FOUGHT TO FREE OCCUPIED FRANCEpublished by Chicago Review Press. Copyright 2017 by Paige Bowers. All rights reserved.

Mid-June News and Notes

Posted on June 16, 2017

An Event that Inspired a Young Patriot

Seventy-seven years ago this week, German troops stormed into Paris, began their wartime occupation of a portion of France, and inspired a little-known French general to implore his countrymen to keep fighting. That little-known French general was named Charles de Gaulle, of course, and he would later become his country’s president. But during that summer of 1940, his words ignited the flame of French Resistance in the heart of his 19-year-old niece, Genevieve, who became one of his most loyal foot soldiers and risked her life in the process. I tell Genevieve’s story in The General’s Niece, and so far readers say they love this tale about an indomitable heroine who “fought the good fight” until the end of her life. I’m grateful for the reader feedback I’ve gotten so far on Amazon and Goodreads, so if you’ve read the book and would like to share your thoughts, please take a minute to add your review to one or both of these sites. Word of mouth like this helps readers find great new reads, but it also helps authors like me get found by bookworms too. So please make like they did in the resistance and spread the word!

Speaking Monday, June 5 at the Carter Presidential Center and Library.

The Book Tour

I’ve been on the road since June 1, and have met amazing folks at my first five signings. One man actually met Charles de Gaulle. One woman’s father was in President de Gaulle’s diplomatic corps. One woman met Ozzy Osbourne, which I know has absolutely nothing to do with the book, but it is no less riveting. There have been book groups, and librarians, and history buffs of all stripes. I’ve talked about visiting Paris, encouraged people to write that book they’ve been thinking about, sung the praises of a good Bordeaux, and told an old family friend that I hadn’t seen in years that I was 21 years of age. That was a fun little fib (and he knew it…because a lady never reveals her true age, especially when asked), but the bottom line is that I’ve been having a great time meeting readers and hearing their stories as I sign this dear little book of mine.

Come see me on tour! Here’s where I’ll be next. More events are coming, but the latest news is that I’m proud to add the Louisiana Book Festival to my fall lineup.

Media and Other Stuff

This week, I did my first radio interview with Susan Larson, host of The Reading Life. She sent me a friendship request on Facebook prior to our chat, so she cleverly sifted through a lot of my nonsense there, finding out about the brand new pair of red cowboy boots I bought at Allen’s Boots while I was in Austin, for example, and a whole host of other things. She’s based in New Orleans, and I’m based in Baton Rouge, but one thing we both know is that we need to meet in person soon. I can’t vouch for myself, but she sure is good fun. If you want to hear our chat, tune in to WWNO in New Orleans Tuesday, June 20 at 1:30 p.m., Friday, June 23 at 7:30 p.m. or Sunday, June 25 at noon. You can also subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or at NPR.

What it looks like to talk to Susan Larson about your book.

Wednesday morning, I went on a little stealth operation in Baton Rouge, leaving seven copies of The General’s Niece in Little Free Libraries throughout town. Bookworm that I am, I’ve always loved the Little Free Library concept, because anything that increases access to books and creates community connections is a very good thing. Consider this a little gift to my hometown, if you will. So if you’re looking for an inspiring summer read and are up for the scavenger hunt, go over to the Little Free Library website, pull up the Baton Rouge map and see if you can figure out where I’ve left these little presents. Then, read, enjoy and spread the word with your friends and loved ones. If you’re on social media, you can tag anything you say about the book #thegeneralsniece, all the while being sure to give me and my publisher Twitter shout-outs at @paigebowers and @chireviewpress respectively.  Word on the street is that you just might win something if you do…

No makeup, no dressy clothes, no problem. Here’s me on my stealth book drop mission this week in Baton Rouge.

Today, I was interviewed by Chris Gondek, host of The Biography Podcast, which is available on iTunes. Chris is a good interviewer and great advocate of women’s biographies, which he believes get short shrift. I was very glad to talk about The General’s Niece with him this afternoon, and look forward to hearing the interview when it’s available. He says it should run by July 1, so I’ll be sure to share it when it’s live.

As always, thank you so much for the support you’ve given me since this book’s release. I really appreciate it and love hearing from readers about The General’s Niece. Please don’t hesitate to email me from this site with any questions or comments you may have. You can also shoot me messages on Twitter or Facebook too!

Scenes from a Book Launch

Posted on June 2, 2017

I’m full of gratitude right now for the people who braved the rain and (in one case) fought through a busted tire to hear me talk about Genevieve de Gaulle last night at Octavia Books, which is one of the loveliest, friendliest places to launch one’s first tome. I got a warm reception, an attentive and engaged audience who knew their World War II history, and the opportunity to break in a new box of Sharpie pens.

The shop gave me a wonderful front-page welcome on their website.

I was able to chat with the audience a bit before giving my book talk. Getting to know a little bit about them and their interests was fun for me, and helpful too, because I could make sure to tailor some of what I was saying to them.

This kind lady right here said she was going to take The General’s Niece off to the beach and read it. I signed that I hoped it kept her good company in her beach chair.

After signing some other books for guests, I signed some more for the store. At Book Expo in New York this week, Genevieve de Gaulle kept Dolly Parton company on a shelf at my publisher’s booth. Here she is sidled up to Ernest Hemingway.

Tonight, I’m off to see the new Wonder Woman film with my daughter and a friend. Then, I’m on to Atlanta for my next talk, which is Monday June 5 at the Carter Presidential Center. Hope to see you there! And thank you for the support!

 

Looking Back and Looking Ahead: An old school story on launch night

Posted on June 1, 2017

This is an older piece of writing, but it’s a long read that was coaxed out of me by an incredible editor and some formidable women in an online writing group. I’ve been looking back on it lately, because it sparked my journey toward the book I’m in the process of launching, though I may not have realized it at the time. This editor and this group asked me how a modern woman could get wrapped up in old stories about long-dead French people. The simple answer was “Because I like those stories.” But the more complicated answer follows in something that amounts to a window into a writer’s soul. I hope you enjoy it, and now that I have the perspective I didn’t have then, I realize there’s a whole new chapter I’m about to write. It starts tonight and I thank you so much for coming along with me on this journey.

— Paige 

 

***

 

He seduced me in the rain.

It happened in Paris. And at the risk of making this story really French, it happened while my husband attended a conference on the opposite side of town.

Now for the part that makes me sound less like Catherine Deneuve:

It happened on a cold September day. We had been in Paris for three days by then, long enough for my four-year-old daughter to decide that the Luxembourg Gardens playground was the only place worth visiting in the entire city. It had that well-worn merry-go-round, that vendor that sold rich hot chocolate, that puppet theater where the characters beat the ever-loving-daylights out of each other with sticks, much to Parisian children’s glee. There were ponies to ride and rope spider webs to climb and big fat pigeons to chase through puddles. It was a veritable kiddie Xanadu, well-shaded by chestnut trees whose leaves were just beginning to turn gold, orange and brown.

Although it was understandable why my daughter wanted to be there, it was also problematic, given the weather that day. So I thumbed through a guidebook in hopes of finding something else we could do, something else that might titillate that part of her that loved sparkly, fabulous princess things and fluffy tutus and rainbows worth of color. That should not have been such a difficult thing to find in Paris, France – it’s a pretty gorgeous place — but on this day it was, thanks in no small part to the discernment of my pint-sized companion, who blithely swung her feet back and forth as she nibbled at her pain au chocolat.

“I want to go to that park today,” she said.

“I already told you that we can’t,” I reminded her. “It’s raining way too much, so Mama is looking for something else to do.”

“But I want to go to the park.”

“I understand that, but we can’t in this weather,” I said. “We’ll do something else that’s just as fun while Daddy’s at his conference.”

“How about the park?”

***

The last time I was in Paris, I was 19 years old. It was my first solo trip outside of the United States. This brings me to the first thing you need to know about me: I have been seduced by a Frenchman before, a fact that is so utterly clichéd that I hate myself for typing it. But alas, it is true, and our romance began the way all great romances begin, with a young French man and a young American woman telling each other they have no earthly idea what the other is talking about.

The young French man in this case – I’ll call him F. — was a 20-year-old Parisian podiatry student who was vacationing in Florida with friends. I had just completed my freshman year in college. My younger sister and I were hanging out on the beach near our house when we met these guys. F. and I spoke for three hours that day. My diary entry from this rendezvous, dated 8-18-1992, describes the experience in a way that Honoré de Balzac never could: “Hubba-hubba.”

Cut me some slack. I was 19 years old.

F. had a quiet charm and easy smile. “He’s so nice, he probably has a girlfriend back home,” I wrote in my journal. “That sucks, but when he goes home in a couple of days, maybe he’ll be my pen pal or something.”

And that’s exactly what happened. The sick and twisted deal of it all was this: I was rather proud of my seven years of French, and he was rather proud of his 11 million years of English (him being the sophisticated European and all that), but we could always stand to improve ourselves, non? So for months, we sent letters back and forth, each of us torching the other’s efforts to write in our respective mother tongues. We softened the red ink blows with stories about the day to day (yes, right down to what part of the foot he was studying in school) and eventually he wrote to say that his family would like to host me in their home for the summer.

This invitation did not sit well with my mother.

“You met this person on the beach, spent a few days hanging out with him and his friends, and then several months writing him. Now you think you’re going to spend a summer with his family? These people are total strangers. Are you out of your mind?”

C’est possible. Then again, I wasn’t the one using The Simpsons episode about the time Bart went off to become a French exchange student and two unscrupulous winemakers turned him into their own personal slave as a cautionary tale.

I love you, Mom, but really.

Anyway, I spent the summer in Paris, touring museums, looking at art that I had only known from slideshow presentations in class, improving my French, making new friends, eating foods I used to find repulsive and arguing with F. about every topic under the sun.

Then he kissed me. Profoundly inexperienced in the romance department, I finally came to understand what all those arguments were about. The day after this night of much kissing (which was all it ever was, and I swear), we headed for a small town in the South of France where his family camps every year. It was during that ride that he filled me with notions of what our romance could be – leave my family behind, come be with him in France. It was all starting to sound pretty good, even though it seemed like it might require me to turn a blind eye to my ambitions, which were to be a writer. But then he said “So when we are in this town you will meet the love of my life and so it will be complicated.”

I couldn’t believe him.

I wanted my Mommy.

I met Love of His Life over a bouillabaisse feast. And she made no secret of her disdain for The American Girl. F. was quiet through it all. I was mad and then quite drunk.

He liked that I was mad.

Which, of course, infuriated me even more.

Ultimately we did not stay angry with each other. But I also did not stay in France with him because leave-it-all-behind-and-be-with-me style commitment just did not seem like something I could do. Months after I returned to the States to begin my junior year at Louisiana State University, F. had found a serious girlfriend. He called me to ask whether I was jealous. I told him no. I was happy for him. We haven’t spoken since. I did Google him (of course) and know that he has his own private podiatry practice, located in a charming suburb not far from where he grew up. Do I wonder what might have been? No. He and Paris came into my life for a reason, turning me into a slightly braver version of my shy, uncertain self. For that I will always be grateful.

***

“Can we pleeeease go to the park today?” my daughter begged.

In some respects, the 36-year-old Paige who sat in Paris with a child who was blind to the weather was not all that different from the 19-year-old Paige who once stood in Notre Dame Cathedral and realized that seven years of French class can only take you so far with a native speaker. This brings me to the second thing you need to know about me: As I sat in a rental apartment on Left Bank with a youngster full of chocolate and a guidebook on my lap, I felt irretrievably lost and unsure of myself, which might have been what made me so vulnerable to yet another Frenchman’s seduction later that rainy day. After years of defining myself as Paige-who-freelances-for-national-magazines-and-newspapers, the market dried up and I became Paige-who-couldn’t-successfully-pitch-a-story-to-save-her-life-and-now-what-do-I-do? I had a handsome, kind husband and a beautiful child and every reason to be happy. And yet I felt like a failure because, try as I might, I wasn’t able to do much of anything with my head or my pen. So when my husband said we should all go to Paris, it was as if a little light inside of me that I feared had been extinguished began to flicker anew. I hoped the journey would be as personally transformative as the one I took when I was a teenager and also wondered what it would be like to see a city I love so much through my daughter’s eyes.

“I wanna go somewhere today, Mama.”

I looked down at my guidebook and saw the words “Palais Garnier.” Although I had loved French history as a college undergraduate, I didn’t know a lot about the building, an opulent opera house built in the mid-nineteenth century. But it seemed to have everything I needed to persuade my then-budding ballerina to come along willingly: beautiful artwork, gilded décor, miles of red velvet and the additional selling point of being a place where famous ballerinas have danced (none of whom she would have known, but the promise of fame and tutus holds major sway in a young girl’s imagination).

Together, we navigated the Paris Métro to the Opéra stop, and carefully made our way up the steps past fast-moving throngs into the ninth arrondissement. There, we were greeted by golden theatrical masks that smiled down on us from the Garnier’s rooftop. Even in the cool drizzle and mist, the building was breathtaking: ornate Corinthian columns, elegant arches, a symphony of multicolored marble and intricately carved stone. All of it fluttered across the building’s façade, which was emblazoned with winged statues and busts of composers.

“Pick me up, Mama,” she begged.

Huddled under a cheap black umbrella, I sloshed across the Rue Auber with her in my arms. When we reached the other side of the street, I put her down for an instant so I could switch my too-large-for-that-moment handbag from one shoulder to the other before picking her back up again. That’s when I looked up and saw him for the very first time. He stood still and calm outside the opera’s entrance, a soulful type with artfully tousled hair that framed his piercing eyes and well-chiseled face. Who is he? I wondered.

His name was Charles Garnier, he was a famous French architect, and he had been dead almost 110 years by the time I hustled across the street to get a closer look at his statue, which stood outside the opera hall that was his life’s work. When he lured me across the street and into the building that bore his name, the rest, as they say, was history.

There was no line for self-guided tour tickets that day. So we paid and wound our way through dimly-lit corridors full of intricately carved stone, past a bronze statue of Pythia, a priestess known as the Oracle of Delphi, and then up slick marble stairs. There were more stairs, after that. Grand ones, familiar ones. Why were these stairs so familiar? Because I had seen a couture-clad Audrey Hepburn stomp down them past Republican Guards in the 1957 Stanley Donen film Funny Face, about a bookish girl who was discovered by a major fashion magazine and then turned into a cover model overnight. It was one of my favorite movies and I was tickled to be standing in the midst of where that particular scene was shot, all the while wondering how Audrey made it down those steps without slipping and breaking her swan-like neck. Then I imagined ladies in crinolines and beautiful gowns, their hair piled high, fanning themselves as they climbed the steps to their seat as admirers watched their grand entrance from the surrounding balconies. This was the grand staircase from the Broadway musical and Gaston Leroux novel The Phantom of the Opera and I had never even made the connection until that point. This building was the backdrop for the world’s longest-running and most iconic musical, a show I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager meeting strange Frenchmen on the beach. This place was gorgeous and opulent and dizzying. I looked down at my daughter as we climbed the staircase together and her mouth was wide open.

“What do you think of this place?” I asked her.

“Whoa,” she said.

Whoa was right. I wondered what it would be like to see a performance there, how much it might cost, how fancy you’d have to dress, how much of a scene it all was both on and off the stage. I wondered how you dreamed up something like this, if you were that guy who caught my attention down on Rue Auber. I wondered how much it cost and how long it took to build something this grand.

Again, who was this Charles Garnier?

My daughter and I walked into a box and looked out across the red velvet seats and gilded ornamentation, up at the several-ton chandelier that hangs in the middle of a Mark Chagall mural, out at the faux curtain that rises on ballerinas eager to make their mark. My girl took it all in, her little delicate hands on the balcony, before looking up at me to say “I want to dance here someday, Mama.”

“When you do, I will watch you all the time,” I said.

We walked around the foyers, underneath more chandeliers and Byzantine-style frescoes that looked like dark, starry nights. We walked and walked and sat on the stairwells and took pictures together, of the ceilings, of the floors, of the blackamoors, of the lighting, of our feet. And then we left. At least I did physically. Mentally, my head was still hovering over the red velvet seats. By dinnertime I was thinking that maybe I wanted to come back to the Palais Garnier and dance too, although not in a ballerina way, but in a nerdy, I-want-to-know-more-about-this way. Because I had a feeling there was a good story there, one that had a lot to do with that statue on Rue Auber.

The sun came out the next morning. After breakfast, my daughter and I walked to the Luxembourg Gardens and headed straight for its old wooden merry-go-round. I helped her climb onto a white wooden horse with a pale green bridle, fastened a safety belt around her waist and then paid the attendant, who handed her a foot-long stick she could use to grab rings as she galloped around and around on her steed. I sat down on a green park bench and watched my daughter reach for the rings, sometimes grabbing them successfully, sometimes flinging them through the air. I snapped a few pictures of her, then pulled my guidebook out of my purse, flipping to the pages about the Luxembourg Gardens in hopes of finding out more about this ride. I never managed to read past this sentence: “One of the park’s treasures is its merry-go-round, whose much-loved wooden animals were designed by none other than Charles Garnier, the 19th-century architect of the Paris Opéra.” Rather than read the rest of the entry, I wondered how you went from designing a posh opera to designing a kiddie ride for a park and where I could find a book about this person who had captured my imagination.

As the ride slowed to a stop, I realized that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t as lost as I thought I was.

***

We had been back in the States for a week when I told my husband that I might want to go back to graduate school and might want to study French history, because I was curious about the Palais Garnier and this Charles Garnier person and thought I might want to write about him.

“Why can’t you just write about him?” he asked.

By this point, my passing interest turned into a full-blown mission. I looked for a biography of Garnier on the internet, but found several books about his architecture. I bought the sole book in English about his work that included a chapter-long treatment of his life, but also a couple of GRE study guides so I could spend the next couple of months cramming for the test I’d need to take to be admitted to graduate school.

“I can’t just write about him because I feel like there’s a lot more I need to learn before I can do it,” I said, a response that had as much to do with the nineteenth century as it did with me.

Less than a year later, we sold our house in Atlanta and moved back to my native Louisiana where I began studying Modern France under the direction of a professor who had tried to convince me to get a master’s degree in French history when I was an undergraduate. A month after we moved into our new house in the Baton Rouge area, I watched my daughter make her way up the steps of the school bus that would carry her to her first day of kindergarten before I got in the car for my first day of school in fifteen years. By the time I met the twenty-something classmate who introduced himself to me as “not much of a morning person” and sat through a history department orientation with the rest of my soon-to-be-footnoting peers, I began to realize a lot of things, one of which was that I had actually forgotten how to write an academic paper.

I walked out of the meeting and down the hallway to my advisor’s office even though he told me the day before that he wasn’t going to be there.

He was.

Because he knew what was coming.

I sat in the chair across from his desk, broke down in tears and said “Oh my God, what in the hell have I done?”

He shut the door and I reached for the Kleenex, which were right where they used to be. And then he went about the ugly business of reminding me that I could do this, that everything would be fine, that I’d see.

***

That was almost seven years ago. The advisor was right. I would be fine. And the seemingly strange, brave step I took on that rainy day in Paris has become one of the best things I ever could have done. For now, I’ve gotten the opportunity to write about a brave young woman who fought against a world that had become unacceptable to her. She’s an inspiration, and I can’t wait to share her story with you. Thank you for that privilege. It’s one I don’t take lightly. 

Trying to pick an excerpt to read for my book launch at Octavia Books on June 1.

Notes Before a Book Launch

Posted on May 22, 2017

Last week a friend of mine asked me what it was like to have a book out in the world.

I told her the truth: It is a dream come true!

On May 11, I spoke to 100 Jesuit High School students with resister and Legion of Honor recipient Nicole Spargenberg. (Photo/Jesuit High School of New Orleans)

By the same token, I felt I had to dispel any storybook or Hollywood notions of what it was like to be a published author.  For me, the story is really the story. Not me. But in case you were wondering, here’s how author life is treating me so far: I’m a 44-year-old woman who has developed a bad yoga pants habit and I’m frustrated because I’m breaking out on my chin.

Plus? My 12-year-old thinks I’m a dork.

Basically, it’s Monday.

How are you doing?

***

One of the best bits of advice I’ve gotten from a fellow writer was to stay busy during the down or quiet periods that inevitably come during the publishing process. For example, when my book proposal went out during the summer of 2015, I planned a new class for LSU Continuing Education and spent tons of quality time with my daughter, who was out of school.  After various deadlines, I’ve poured myself into things such as my vegetable garden, a new book idea, and a long-talked-about plan to knit a unicorn (because I think the world needs more of them, only not in Frappucinos). These are just a couple of examples of how I keep myself out of trouble when things are quiet and my head starts playing “what if…” games with me.

At the end of the year, I decided to take staying busy in a new direction. My daughter was taking voice lessons and eventually I decided to do it too.

Now I’ve always been someone who sings along, or makes up songs on the fly. But my singing has been more earnest than good, so I decided that a little self-improvement couldn’t hurt. I took one lesson just to see what it was like, then loved it and took more. I have no visions of hitting the Broadway stage, or anything of that ilk, but I have been singing torch songs, show tunes, and…most recently…classical music.

In French, no less.

Here’s a clip of the latest song I’ve been working on, sung by someone who isn’t me (because I’m not quite ready to get that weird on you just yet):

 

***

Yes, I’ve been waiting lately, because although you can buy my book online right now, it is not officially out until June 1. If you have bought the book already, again, thank you so much for your support. When you’ve finished reading, please leave a review on Amazon, Goodreads, or other online retailers, so other readers know what you thought. Reviews really help authors, so if you could take a moment to leave one, I’d really, really appreciate it. Many of you have posted pictures of the book in your homes, cars and offices. Please keep those shots coming and tag them #inthewild #thegeneralsniece when you share.

I’ll be on the road in June, so come catch me in these cities, or follow along on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, if you can’t be there in person, or don’t see your hometown on my schedule yet.

Have a question about publishing, the book tour, The General’s Niece, or anything that may be on your mind? Don’t hesitate to ask me in comments and I’ll address your question in a future post.

Surprise! Amazon is releasing The General’s Niece early!

Posted on May 1, 2017

About a week-and-a-half ago, my mother-in-law texted me to let me know that Amazon would be mailing her The General’s Niece earlier than June 1, which is its official release date. Nervous, I asked her how much earlier she’d be getting my book. She replied that she’d basically be receiving it at the time I’m typing these very words (Monday, May 1 at 5:34 p.m.).

And then I thought “Whoa, dude. That is way earlier than I expected.”

This is what we call “Sophisticated Author Speak.”

After this, I got some emails from people who said they’d be receiving it at the end of April, and other assorted messages from people who said they’d be getting it at the beginning of May too.  Then people started getting it, and posting about it on their social media feeds and sending me emails and other messages.

I am overwhelmed by this, but in a good way.

I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am for all of this early support and interest. Thank you, thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart! It means so much to me. It means even more to read your emails and messages, and hear that you love and are inspired by this story about a little-known de Gaulle who fought to free occupied France.  Geneviève de Gaulle’s life story is special and my hope is that she becomes at least a little better known outside of her country, because that is certainly what she deserves. But I also hope to shine a little more light on the formidable women in her orbit, resisters such as Anise Postel-Vinay and Michèle Agniel, who were both kind enough to spend an afternoon sharing their wartime memories with me in January 2016. My afternoon with them was one of the most special moments in my life. I’ll never, ever forget them and I hope I’ve done their stories justice.

As for you, fair readers, so far, I’ve seen pictures of my book in your hands, next to your beautiful smiling faces, on the front seats of your car, on your desks and kitchen counters. I know Geneviève de Gaulle’s story is currently traveling throughout the Southeast, up the Eastern seaboard and over to the West Coast. Keep showing me where she travels and letting me know how her life story has touched your own. Your messages are wonderful, and I’m doing what I can to answer them all. In the meantime, please visit Amazon.com and Goodreads — two sites where I have author pages you can follow — to leave a review of the book when you’re done reading it. These reviews really help authors like me, and really help other potential buyers see that this is a story worth their time.

So thank you again for everything you’ve done to support this book so far. I’ll be out on the road this summer to talk about Geneviève de Gaulle, meet readers like you, and sign copies of The General’s Niece. Please keep checking my events page to see if I’m coming to your hometown. If you don’t see a date in your neck of the woods yet, please trust that I’m working on it. I do want to meet the people who’ve shown this book so much love!

Advance Praise for The General’s Niece

Posted on March 6, 2017

Writing and revising a book is one thing. The other thing: People eventually read what you’ve done and (perhaps) say something about it.

I am grateful to have gotten some wonderful early praise from writers whose work I’ve long admired.

I’ve love to share some of it with you here:

“This is such an inspiring story, written with clarity and conviction. Paige Bowers’s excellent biography reveals Geneviève de Gaulle as one of the bravest and most dignified among young French resisters. At last, women who resisted the Nazis in France are being given the long-overdue recognition they deserve.”
“At once exhilarating and heartbreaking, captivating and horrifying, Bowers’s account of Geneviève de Gaulle’s journey from cautious defiance to full-blown resistance operative, through the horror of a concentration camp, to the even longer fight for a modern, egalitarian France is a timely, much-needed story of patriotism, courage, and the all-too-often ignored role of women in twentieth-century history.”
“This stirring biography is a worthy epitaph for a woman who passionately believed that France should never forget its cherished values of justice and fraternity.”
“Paige Bowers delivers a story that is alternately pulse pounding and heart wrenching. With elegant style, Bowers gives Geneviève de Gaulle an independent identity, restoring her to her proper place in history.”
“A resistance fighter deported to Ravensbrück, Geneviève de Gaulle Anthonioz maintained her sanity through solidarity with her fellow female prisoners. After her return to France, she exorcised the psychological scars of her internment by dedicating herself to working with the unjustly marginalized. This book reminds one that a compassionate humanity is possible even in the face of unimaginable brutality. The General’s Niece is essential reading.”
Again, I am so grateful to these first readers for their feedback. My very best regards to all of them, and sincere thanks for all of their kind words.
Photo by Paige Bowers

Spring Things

Posted on February 24, 2017

A certain little groundhog says we have a little bit more winter ahead of us, but here in South Louisiana things are in full bloom. It’s the time of year when pleasant weather lures you outside for gardening, crawfish boils and any number of parades and festivals.

I spent part of this morning shipping a little bit of sweetness into the world because I figure it can’t hurt. Some of the goodies I sent away were jars of homemade marmalade. I learned how to make this recently because I have the world’s most prolific satsuma tree in my backyard and I can never give away enough of the fruit. Friends have offered to take some off my hands, but when I’ve gifted them heavy grocery bags full of the sweet citrus, they’ve looked at me as if they’re not quite sure what to do with my present. Right when I thought I’d given away the last of the oranges, a neighbor of mine brought me six dozen lemons from her own backyard, and said I could have more if I wanted them.

This citrus deluge made me realize I needed to take extreme measures.

So I learned how to make small batches of preserves.

My great-grandmother used to do this. Same with my paternal grandmother. As a matter of fact, my paternal grandmother used to make strawberry preserves that were so beloved that she had a secret hiding place for all the little Ball jars she had filled. People craved that stuff, and one summer my uncle put me up to finding her stash. Like a dutiful niece, I did, but in retrospect I realize I stripped away some of the mystery that made this stuff so special.

Oro Blanco grapefruit marmalade

Other than that, I’ve been cleaning up this website (I have my daughter to thank for the text treatment in the header) and arranging book-related events to coincide with the release of my book this summer. It’s exciting to think that readers will have their hands on The General’s Niece in just a few months, and I look forward to meeting them and talking to them more about this book.

To close: It’s Carnival season here and pretty much everywhere you go there’s a purple, gold and green King Cake. One of my favorite finds this year is a local bakery that makes these cakes in the traditional French way, complete with the collectible porcelain feve, or bean.

Forte Grove bakery’s traditional King Cake

 

Porcelain feve in Forte Grove’s King Cake.

At any rate, here’s hoping you all have a fantastic weekend ahead of you with your friends and family!

Keeping the Faith

Posted on February 19, 2017

The other day a writer friend of mine asked me how I kept the faith and managed my nerves as I had a project out for submission and then, thanks to Jane Dystel, a manuscript to complete for a publisher.

Here’s one of my secrets: During the eight-month period in which I crafted the proposal for The General’s Niece and revised it, I bought a fortune in self-help books. I’m not being smug or silly here. This is the honest-to-goodness truth.

The reason why I did this is because I had been through the submission process before and I saw how it, let’s just say, amplified my shortcomings. This time, I wanted to do better not only because I wanted to write this book, but because I wanted to do better in general.

As David Brooks writes in The Road to Character:

“…the inner struggle against one’s own weaknesses is the central drama of life. As the popular minister Harry Emerson Fosdick put it in his 1943 book On Being a Real Person, ‘The beginning of worthwhile living is thus the confrontation with ourselves.’

Truly humble people are engaged in a great effort to magnify what is best in themselves and defeat what is worst, to become strong in the weak places.”

Here’s a peek into my mindset via some (but not all) of the titles I purchased during this period:

Yes, I have a tendency to worry. I know this. My family knows this. My dearest friends know this. My agent, God love her, knows this too. I was on a call with her once and I remember telling her that I was worried about something. I don’t even remember what it was anymore, but she told me in her own inimitable way, “Worry accomplishes nothing.”

Then, as always, she was right. What good does it do to worry about things that either haven’t happened or are out of your control? What purpose does worry serve? Worry doesn’t write or revise or complete manuscripts. Worry doesn’t meet deadlines or answer your editor’s or agent’s questions. Worry doesn’t do anything but waste a bunch of energy that could be better spent doing something productive and enriching.

Like looking for another book idea.

Or road-tripping with your daughter to visit friends in South Florida.

Or working on your website.

Or learning something new.

Or taking a nice long walk (which I do at least four times a week) to clear your head and give you a break from your inbox.

Now I’m not saying I never worry, but I do make a concerted effort to stay busy, especially at times when I know my worst tendencies might rear their ugly heads if left unchecked. As author Marjorie Brimer says, “Publishing is all about waiting. And, waiting, I’ve found, is like that slow drag up to the peak of the [roller]coaster. For some of us, this portion of the journey is longer than others. And the longer it is, the more anticipation and anxiety that builds.”

Then you hit the peak.

I got the first hints of good news about The General’s Niece one July afternoon in 2015 when I was sitting at the pool, dripping wet, reading a book while my daughter and one of her friends swam. My cell phone dinged, so I checked my email. It was Jane, and she said there was interest in my proposal, but she needed me to answer a couple of questions.

I asked her to give me a half-hour. I don’t remember whether I told her I had to bribe two girls to get out of the pool so I could get back to my desk to find the answers she needed. But that’s exactly what I did.

“Can we have a sleepover?” they asked me as they bobbed in the water with big grins on their faces.

“You can have anything you want if you get out and dry off now,” I told them.

I’m generally not a rollercoaster person. I will confess to screaming “Oh my God, no” and various other things that I will not type now that I know my daughter knows that I have a blog. But as I drove two soggy girls back to my house that day, my heart began to pound with excitement instead of fear. I was not thinking “Oh my God, no.” but “Oh my God, yes! Bring it!”

The ride toward publication has been wild, but it isn’t over yet. For me, it has helped to work on better ways to manage the ups, downs, waiting and uncertainty that are so common in the publishing process. Resiliency is so important, and I hope this post has helped you in some way, whether you’re a writer or not.

Tell me: What are the things you do to help you weather uncertain times? What are the best lessons you’ve learned about resiliency? How do you keep the faith when the going gets tough? Please share your thoughts in comments.