Women’s Contemporary Fiction Author Rozsa Gaston: ‘When I suffer from writer’s block I go running’

Rozsa GastonRozsa Gaston is an author who writes serious books on playful matters. She is the author of Paris Adieu, Dogsitters, Budapest Romance, Lyric, Running from Love and the soon to be released Paris Adieu sequel, Black is Not a Color Unless Worn By a Blonde.Rozsa studied European intellectual history at Yale, and then received her master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia. In between Rozsa worked as a singer/pianist all over the world. She currently lives in Connecticut with her family.

You can visit Rozsa’s website at www.parisadieu.com.

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About Paris Adieu

Paris AdieuThe first time Ava Fodor visits Paris as a nineteen-year old au pair, her French boyfriend introduces her to the concept of being comfortable in her own skin. If only she knew how…

One Ivy League degree later, she’s back for an encounter with a Frenchman that awakens her to womanhood. If only she could stay….

Five years later, Ava returns to Paris as a singer/pianist. She falls for Arnaud, whose frequent travel tortures her. While he’s away, a surprising stranger helps Ava on her journey to self-discovery. Armed with the lessons Paris has taught her, she bids adieu to Arnaud, Pierre and her very first love – the City of Light.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Rozsa. Can you tell us what your latest book, Paris Adieu, is all about?

Paris Adieu is a coming of age tale of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

The book has two themes: 1) how to be  comfortable in your own skin and 2) how to fake it till you make it.

Paris Adieu’s heroine, Ava Fodor, is clueless about both at the start of the story. But over ten years and three separate stays in Paris, she figures out a thing or two – thanks to insights living in Paris has given her. Ava studies French women, French food,  French attitude – while French men study her.  By the final chapters of Paris Adieu, she’s more or less transformed herself into the woman she wants to be. And if she hasn’t entirely, at least she’s learned how to fake it till she makes it.

Ultimately, Ava grasps that her newfound sense of self will work for her back in the U.S. in a way it never will if she stays in Paris. She’ll never become French. But she has become fabulous. More or less.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

My main character is Ava Fodor, a slightly plump, frizzy-haired nineteen-year-old American au pair in Paris. She struggles with being less than perfect.

Jean-Michel is Ava’s fussy, exacting first French boyfriend who educates her on all matters Parisian. Too bad his provincial outlook drives her up the wall.

Four years later, Pascal, Ava’s second French boyfriend, gives her something she’ll thank him for eternally – an introduction to her own womanhood.

Arnaud, Ava’s third French boyfriend, dazzles Ava’s head as well as her heart, until she finally tires of matching wits with him in a never ending zero-sum game. Recalling Pascal’s advice to her to always seek authenticity, she realizes she can’t be herself with Arnaud, nor in her career as a singer pianist.

When Arnaud’s friend Pierre shows interest in her original songs in a way Arnaud never has, Ava gains insight into who she really is and where she belongs. Pierre’s entrance into her life catalyzes her to move in a new direction – back to New York armed with the lessons Paris has taught her.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

I base my characters on real people.

Q: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

I almost never have more than a vague idea of where my plot is going. My characters let me know sooner or later what is going to happen to them. The plot derives from them.

Q: Your book is set in Paris. Can you tell us why you chose this city in particular?

Audrey Hepburn summed it up best when she said “Paris is always a good idea.”

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

Yes. Mais oui!

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

Ava meets April, the Californian ex-girlfriend of Ava’s French boyfriend Jean-Michel. April has returned to Paris for a brief visit and drops by to see Jean-Michel. Expecting to feel jealous, instead Ava realizes that she and April have far more in common with each other than either of them do with Jean-Michel. They’re both a bit plump, both on diets, both struggling to get their arms around the very Parisian concept of being comfortable in their own skins. When Ava witnesses Jean-Michel trying to sabotage April’s efforts to stay on her diet when they all go out, she gets wise to Jean-Michel’s controlling ways. After April’s visit, Ava has Jean-Michel’s number – and it’s up.

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

I hope you enjoy reading the following excerpt from Paris Adieu as much as I enjoyed writing it:

“You saw her recently?” Arnaud asked, his voice for once not booming out, dominating the conversation.

“She passed through Chavignol about a month ago,” Pierre said.

“Did she ask about me?” Arnaud’s tone was serious, almost reverential. I remained quiet as a mouse, tiptoeing behind the men.

“I can’t remember,” Pierre replied.

“You can’t remember what Mélanie said to you? I don’t believe it,” Arnaud said.

“We were at the boulangerie. It was crowded – we spoke in passing.” Pierre looked around, spotting me then clearing his throat.

I walked quickly ahead, pretending not to have heard anything. My blood boiled to think of how vulnerable Arnaud’s voice had sounded when he’d asked if whoever Mélanie was had asked about him. I’d never heard Arnaud utter a single word to me in a similar tone, not even when he’d said je t’adore.

Suddenly, I didn’t adore him back at all. My feelings for him crumbled, as the scales fell from my eyes. He was carrying a torch for someone named Mélanie. And whoever she was, she wasn’t me.

Always maintain straight posture at critical moments,” my grandmother’s voice rang out inside. I straightened up, flicking my ponytail back to ward off the gnat of insecurity now buzzing behind me. Then it hit me – Mélanie was the name of the woman in the photo at Arnaud’s country house.

Something tugged at my hair. I ignored it. Again, I tried to catch their conversation.

Arnaud had realized I was within earshot. Changing course, he began to describe a herd of elephants he’d seen in Cambodia.

I felt another tug. This time, I turned my face to the left, where Pierre’s warm, brown eyes caught mine. I lowered my own quickly, my pulse racing. He had been the one pulling my ponytail. Meanwhile, Arnaud droned on about yet another fascinating, obscure thing that had happened to him in the jungles of Southeast Asia.

Pierre lowered his eyes back at me and made an inaudible ‘shhh’ with his mouth.

My smile was discreet, unnoticed by Arnaud, who was now waxing rhapsodic about how baby elephants call for their mothers. Whatever.

It occurred to me things that happen to us don’t really matter as much when they are not shared. If Arnaud had been watching baby elephants bawl for their mothers with me, for example, we would have shared the memory of such a charming scene forever, woven into the fabric of our relationship, however long it lasted.

Instead, it would be Arnaud telling his baby elephant story to others throughout the years, regaling strangers in bars with tales of wondrous exploits he underwent alone. So what? It all seemed like a big nothing to me.

“And then the female elephants all form a circle around the babies and bellow at the male elephants who try to charge the watering hole before the babies have had their drink. Yak, yak, yak, blah blah …” Arnaud was now completely caught up in his anecdote, oblivious to Pierre’s eyes flickering over mine, engaged, attentive, and fully present in the moment. “Be here now” was what Arnaud had preached to me.

But Pierre practiced it.

My mind wandered back to George Berkeley, the eighteenth-century empiricist who’d said “to be is to be perceived.” He was one of my favorite philosophers. In my college philosophy classes, he’d been one of the few I’d fully wrapped my brain around, along with Hegel and his three-part dialectic. As a songwriter I could really get behind the concept of three – verse, chorus, bridge were the three components of just about every pop song ever created. It was inarguably a pleasing number, both to the mind and to the senses. No wonder God had chosen it to represent Himself.

But back to Berkeley’s way of thinking – let’s just say that Arnaud hadn’t really seen those baby elephants, or heard them crying for their mothers, or seen the ladies get huffy with the males who tried to drink before the kids had their fill. Who would ever know? Since Arnaud witnessed this whole scene by himself, then who was to say it actually happened?

That’s what Berkeley would ask and that was what I was asking now. If Arnaud chose to live his life in a way largely unshared by anyone who remained constant in it, then was there meaning in what he experienced? Frankly – who cared?

Excerpted from Paris Adieu (2011) by Rozsa Gaston

Q: Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track?

When I suffer from writer’s block I go out running. If I’m really blocked, I do a speed workout. Speed workouts put the body into an anaerobic state which causes the brain to produce endorphins afterward. Endorphins are neurotransmitters that promote feelings of euphoria. I usually sleep well and dream vividly the night after I’ve done a speed workout. I think it’s those endorphins inviting inspiration into my brain. By the next morning I’ve usually come up with a fresh new writing idea.

If that doesn’t work, I brainstorm by writing down as many plotlines, outcomes, and crazy directions for the story to go in as come into my head. I do this first thing in the morning before the day gets cluttered up with real life.

Q: What would you do with an extra hour today if you could do anything you wanted?

Read! I’d kick back with a fiction work of choice and learn from other authors. Famous, infamous or unknown, it wouldn’t matter. I love reading what other writers do with words. It’s always instructive. Even when its bad, it teaches me something. But there’s nothing like the pleasure of reading a well-written passage. It’s as good as eating a box of fine chocolates.

Q: Which already published book do you wish that you had written and why?

I wish I’d written Bonjour Tristesse, the 1954 masterpiece and debut novel by Françoise Sagan. That book had it all: style, austerity, chic, wit, insouciance, ennui, the whole gamut of what the French refer to as “je ne sais quoi” – “I don’t know what.” I hope Paris Adieu has a similar blend of seasoning – but without the ennui. Ennui is one of those characteristics largely exclusive to Europeans – unless we’re talking about Whit Stillman characters. I’ve always wanted to have it, but never will.

Q: What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors regarding getting their books out there?

Complete your projects. Don’t start a manuscript, lay it aside then start another one. Get into the habit of completing whatever writing project you begin. It’s a good discipline to follow and sooner or later one of your completed projects will be good enough to publish. If no one else thinks so, just publish it yourself. Voilà – you’re on your way!

Thank you so much for this interview, Rozsa.  We wish you much success!

 


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