Tag Archives: Memoir

A Chat with Sharon van Ivan, author of Juggle and Hide


Sharon
Sharon van Ivan lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her two cats, The Duke and Earl.  She was born in Brooklyn New York and couldn’t wait to move back to New York when she grew up.  Her parents divorced when she was a baby and she lived with her mother in Akron, Ohio, until she returned to New York in her early 20s.  There she studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and was a working actress for many years.  But she was always writing.  Her debut as a playwright was when she was 10 years old and living in Sacramento, California.  She wrote about the hardships of a young girl in Mexico.  The play was so good, it was presented to the whole school.  Sharon was mortified and did not write again until high school.  Then when she had a writing assignment, she would dream about it the night before, and write it just before class.  She was an A student in English.  Not the most popular person in school, however.

Growing up with an alcoholic and, therefore, mentally ill mother and a mostly-absent father (plus a slew of stepfathers) was a challenge that Sharon met head-on – as she had no choice. Later in life when she did have a choice, the patterns had already been set and she followed a similarly disastrous road until she found show business, a great psychiatrist and the love of her life, the renowned realist painter, Charles Pfahl.

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Juggle and Hide. What was your inspiration for it?

A: I lived through the proverbial bad childhood, and then as a young adult, I started treating myself badly. Deeply ingrained patterns had been formed and I had to work my way out of them. I had a lot of help along the way, so Juggle and Hide ends up being a story of my search for love and – ultimately – my survival.

Juggle and Hide-BEAQ: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.

A: Since it’s a memoir, I’m the protagonist. I’m lucky to be alive. As a matter of fact, my mother’s sponsor in AA on the day he met me, about 40 years ago, said that very thing to me.  He said it every time he saw me or talked to me on the phone up until the day he died — about a year and a half ago. One thing that sticks in my brain is that I never realized my mother was mentally ill until I was an adult being treated by a psychiatrist myself. I just thought she’d had a rough life and was doing the best she could. Actually, she was doing the best she could do, but it was a fight for her every day.

Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?

A: As this is my first memoir, once I started writing, it took on a life of its own.  It took about six months to complete, but there weren’t many bumps along the way.  The bumps had been in my own life and that’s what I was writing about.

Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?

A: With my own life story, it somehow just flowed naturally.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?

A: I do, but I experience anxiety before sitting down to send an e-mail or text to a friend. Writing is that kind of struggle for me, but once I start, it gets easier, but I never get any less anxious.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?

A: I write in my journal when I first wake up in the morning – about 5:00 – and most of the time that’s all I write during that day.  Then I will have a spurt of energy and write for a few days or weeks at a time.  I guess you could say I’m a binge writer. My husband, the artist Charles Pfahl – who did the cover for my book – died recently – but he was always supportive of my work.  My cats, the Duke and Earl are very supportive, too, but you’d have to ask them why.

Q: How do you define success?

A: Being able to get through each day without too much angst or too much sorrow.  Life is hard and just getting through the day makes me feel successful.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?

A: Threaten to leave.  Leave.  Be supportive of them and their work and see if that helps. If it doesn’t help, then leave.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?

A: Not totally, but I’m no George Orwell either. I think it is invigorating to write. I think life is the struggle.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?

A: Just keep writing. Something good will come of it.  I hope Juggle and Hide makes its way onto your bookshelves or into your kindle, and if it does, I hope you find the dark humor in it.  And I also hope you always have a sense of humor about your work – or mine – or anyone else’s. Never lose your sense of humor.

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Interview with Faye Rapoport DesPres, author of ‘Message from a Blue Jay’


Faye_B_and_W_copy
Faye Rapoport DesPres is the author of the new memoir-in-essays, Message from a Blue Jay. She earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the Solstice MFA Program at Pine Manor College. Her essays, fiction, poetry, and reviews have appeared in Ascent, International Gymnast Magazine, Platte Valley Review, Superstition Review, In the Arts, Fourth Genre, TheWhistling Fire, the Writer’s Chronicleand other journals and magazines. Faye was born in New York City and has lived in England, Israel, and Colorado. She currently lives in the Boston area with her husband, Jean-Paul Des Pres, and their cats. Visit her website at www.fayerapoportdespres.com. 

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About the book

From an astonishing blue jay to a lone humpback whale, from the back roads of her hometown to the streets of Jerusalem and the Tower of London, debut author Faye Rapoport DesPres examines a modern life marked by a passion for the natural world, unexpected love, and shocking loss, and her search for a place she can finally call home in this beautifully crafted memoir-in-essays.

Three weeks before DesPres’s fortieth birthday, nothing about her life fit the usual mold. She is single, living in a rented house in Boulder, Colorado, fitting dance classes and nature hikes between workdays at a software start-up that soon won’t exist. While contemplating a sky still hazy from summer wildfires, she decides to take stock of her nomadic life and find the real reasons she never “settled down.” The choices she makes from that moment on lead her to retrace her steps-in the States and abroad-as she attempts to understand her life. But instead of going back, she finds herself moving forward to new love, horrible loss, and finally, in a way that she never expected, to a place she can almost call home.

Readers who love the memoirs and personal essays of rising contemporary writers such as Cheryl Strayed, Joy Castro, and Kim Dana Kupperman will appreciate Faye’s observational eye, her passion for the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it, and her search for the surprising truths behind the events of our daily lives.

Purchase on Amazon and B&N

Interview

Q: Congratulations on the release of your latest book, Message from a Blue Jay. What was your inspiration for it? 

A: I was inspired by my daily life, my travels, the natural world, and some of the incidents and relationships that have been a big part of my life.

Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist. 

A: The narrator of a memoir-in-essays represents the author to a strong extent. You are telling your own story – in this case the story of a woman who re-evaluates her life as she approaches the age of 40 and begins to search for an explanation about how her life turned out the way it did. That journey takes her to many places and to interactions with a variety of important people, and helps her take stock of both her life and life in general. This is not just a book about one woman’s life, or about women’s lives. It’s a book, I hope, about life.

Blue-Jay-Cover-10.2-for-webuseQ: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way? 

A: It took me about four years to write Message from a Blue Jay and there were many bumps along the way. For a long time I worked hard to learn how to fashion the essays and improve my craft, and then I worked hard to put individual pieces together in a cohesive manuscript. Along the way I faced times when I couldn’t get an essay right, when a literary journal rejected a piece I really believed in, and when a publisher didn’t feel there was enough of a market for personal essay collections or memoirs derived from essays. I faced each obstacle, learned from it, and moved forward. 

Q: Tell us, how do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a memoir? 

A: This isn’t easy. In the case of a memoir derived from personal essays, I had to work at developing a narrative and a narrative arc and resolution. Memoirs that read more as direct narratives probably use all of the plot, pacing, and narrative tools that are used in fiction.

Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it? 

A: Sometimes, but not usually. I only feel anxiety if life’s pressures are making it hard for me to carve out the time to write. I just have to work at finding the right balance.

Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time? 

A: I usually write early in the mornings so that I can know I got my writing time in and it doesn’t interfere with other responsibilities or time with my husband. Sometimes, of course, when I’m facing deadlines, I have to write at whatever time of day works.

Q: How do you define success? 

A: Being happy with yourself and your accomplishments, whatever they might be. Touching other people’s (and animals’) lives in a positive way.

Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author? 

A: I’m not sure I have advice for that situation. My husband, whose father was a writer, has always been very supportive. The only advice I can think of is not to give up on your dreams because another person isn’t supportive.

Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree? 

A: To an extent, yes. Writing is tough, and one shouldn’t undertake the writing life lightly. On the other hand, if you really hate it, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to force yourself to do it.

Q:  Anything else you’d like to tell my readers? 

A: I hope they will enjoy Message from a Blue Jay, relate to some of it and find other things thought provoking. I hope reading the book will be an enjoyable, absorbing experience so they’ll be happy they read it and recommend the book to friends!

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Guest post by Joan Heartwell, author of ‘Hamster Island’

HamsterIsland_medI grew up with a mostly absent father, a religious fanatic mother, a kleptomaniac grandmother, and two special needs siblings. As a really small kid, I didn’t give much thought to my circumstances, but as I got older I began to see how “unique” my family was. Their uniqueness became even more evident after we moved from a river town where everyone was downwardly mobile to an affluent town that would have the special ed classes that my brother, who we had by then discovered was a person with developmental disabilities, would require. The only house we could afford was a corner house that adjoined one parking lot and backed up to another, a property owned by the town’s largest supermarket. When the supermarket lot was full, people parked on the side or in front of our house. They left their shopping carts all around our small property. My grandmother said we lived in a fishbowl and everyone could see in. When my father and brother were arguing, which was whenever my father was home, my grandmother would run from window to window with her cigarette trying to determine who might be out there trying to look into our fishbowl to see what was going on.

I was ashamed of my family, and I was ashamed of myself for feeling ashamed. This made for some complicated feelings for a kid/teenager to handle. Because I was painfully shy to begin with, I lived in dread of doing anything that might be construed as abnormal, because I feared the onlooker would think there was something wrong with me too. First I attempted to become an overachiever academically, but once I transferred from Catholic school to public and found I could pass tests without studying and that nobody cared about my grades anyway (I was on the non-college-bound track), I attempted to become an overachiever socially. This took some doing in the late sixties and early seventies. My mother was very strict, and simply getting out of the house required enormously creativity.

As a young adult I discovered that I loved writing. I began to write for a living and I also wrote four novels. I planned never to write about my life, because I still carried around some of the shame from my childhood, but some friends talked me into it, and once I got started, it actually became a fun project. So I opened my heart, and then I opened my closet and let all the skeletons tumble out, and now I’m actually finding out that a lot of people can relate to my story. Their stories of familial dysfunction may have different details, but the bottom line is that growing up is challenging for many people, and living in the world as an adult can be tricky too. Those of us who survive are bound not so much by answers as by questions, and we have some great stories to tell.

Purchase from Amazon B&N / OmniLit

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Joan Heartwell makes her living as a pen for hire, writing, editing and ghostwriting for a variety of private and corporate clients. She has had four novels published under another name and has a fifth one due out later in 2014.

Connect with Joan Heartwell on the web:

www.joanheartwell.com

https://www.facebook.com/hamsterisland

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First Chapter Reveal: Break the Chains, by Jay D Roberts, MD

9781627467582medTitle:  Break the Chains

Genre:  Memoir

Author:  Jay D Roberts, MD

Website:  www.jdrobertsmd.com  

Publisher:   Tate Publishing and Enterprises, LLC 

BUY BREAK THE CHAINS ON AMAZON / B&N / TATE PUBLISHING 

If you were abused over and over again, would you become an abuser? Or would you learn to forgive? Dr. Jay Roberts had to go to prison to learn the answer.

In 1999 Dr. Roberts was in at-home hospice care preparing for his own death from a neurological disease. At the point where he finally gave up, he experienced a spontaneous, overnight healing. It was not the first time he had “cheated” death. He had survived a fifty-foot fall from a cliff, a plane crash, and attempts on his life by rebel insurgents in remote areas in the Philippines in 1970s. This near-death escape was different though, because it was the culmination of a turbulent lifelong dialogue with God which started when he was a child being bull-whipped by his alcoholic father. Yet even after his complete recovery from disease, it would take a maximum security prison environment to reveal to him the mysterious power of forgiveness.

In the telling of his fascinating story—of extreme abuse, of the compulsion to become a pain and wound care specialist, of medical school in a third world country against a dangerous political backdrop, and of his return home to deal with the demons he’d left behind—Dr. Roberts tackles the big questions illuminating physical, mental, and spiritual growth. Break the Chains affirms faith in both God and the human spirit. It is as revealing and inspirational as it is truthful and poignant.

Prologue

Palm Springs, California
1999

My eyes water as I stare at the whirling ceiling fan. The blades blur and transform into bolos (machetes) that slice through the air and my thoughts. The physician in me dissects my infirmity, orders treatment for cure, and demands to be in charge. The Christian in me calls for faith without understanding, to die to self, to surrender to Christ and his will. My medical and religious beliefs battle and clash like opposing bolo blades.

I lay wasting in my bed with muscles, once toned and defined, now atrophied and weak. I am wounded. I struggle to push the opened Bible away from my bedside. Beverly has placed the Bible next to me for weeks. She and I have been married since 1975, after a three-year courtship. I wonder if she wants to reconsider the “for better or for worse” part of our vows. How easy those words flowed from our naive mouths.

The Bible falls to the floor. The fight is over.

I smile.

My inner voice and friend, Buddy, warns me I am wrong to
disrespect the Bible.

I tell him to go away.

He does.

My eyes close. My brain waves surge and scenes are projected on the back of my eyelids, reflections of my past. I am in fifth grade. It is late at night. I walk like a robot to the kitchen. My pajamas stick to my bottom. The dried blood from the bullwhip lashings holds the fabric to my skin. My father is passed out, drunk. His right hand, with its thick, stubby digits and brownish-yellow stain between the long and middle fingers, hangs over the edge of the couch. He snores with the intensity of a train. I select the sharpest knife and walk over to the bullwhip that hangs on a wall near the living room. I remove it from the wall, walk back to the kitchen, and stand at the table. I methodically cut the whip into small pieces. It takes several hours. I return the knife to its proper place and put all the pieces of the bullwhip into a paper bag. I open the back door and hide the bag in the bottom of the trashcan.

I look up and see a million stars, turn, and then walk back into the house. I stop to pee and go back to bed. When I awake later that morning, I try to sit up but cannot. I stand and cautiously walk to the living room. My father is not there. A squished pillow partially hides his body imprint on the sofa cushion. Stale beer odor hangs in the air. I turn and walk over to the wall. The whip is not there.

I thought it was a dream.

My eyes scan more images from my life.

Wounds dominate the picture.

I have always tried to heal wounds, others’ and mine.

Some wounds are not easily sutured, some impossible.

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Interview with Tim and Debbie Bishop, Authors of Two Are Better

Two Are Better new cover

About Two Are Better

From an engagement to a cross-country trip in just ten weeks? And with no experience in bicycle touring—or marriage? While Tim left behind a 26-year corporate career and familiar surroundings, Debbie was about to enter a “classroom” she hadn’t seen in her 24 years of teaching. Was it a grand getaway or a big mistake?

Purchase from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Two-Are-Better-Midlife-Newlyweds/dp/0985624825/

Purchase from Open Road Press: http://www.openroadpress.com/store/

Q: Thank you for this interview, Tim and Debbie. Can you tell us what your latest book, Two Are Better, is all about?

A: Two Are Better: Midlife Newlyweds Bicycle Coast to Coast is the true story of two lifelong singles who come together in marriage at age 52, and then cross America on a self-supported bicycle tour on their honeymoon. Issues surrounding midlife courtship, marriage, and other life changes—and the lessons learned along the way—make Two Are Better more than just a travelogue.

Q: How did you come up with the idea?

A: We decided to share our unique story of finding true love in our fifties and celebrating with a bicycling odyssey to beat all because we believe our testimony is a gift that can benefit others. We waited many years for companionship and intimate love, and had become entrenched in the grind of daily living. We think our story of breaking free will encourage, motivate, and bless people who are struggling with unfulfilled dreams and desires. And most people have them at some level. Sharing deep personal matters in the context of an adventure that others may fantasize about provides a perfect setting to engage readers with powerful and lasting impact. A dual narrative from the seat of a bicycle, as well as some captivating photography along the way, will also provide a fresh perspective on the beauty of America, and an entertaining read.

Q: What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

A: We had the benefit of writing a memoir, so much of the content is based on our own personal experience. We learned how to blog during our trip, which became a valuable aid in the writing process. Our photography, trip log, and payment receipts helped to stir the memory and fill in the gaps. Since we shared this adventure together, each of us remembered unique aspects and reminded the other. And a GPS, along with downloadable capabilities and the power of the Internet, allowed us to retrace our steps when necessary.

Q: If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

A: The strongest underlying message of Two Are Better is that it is NEVER too late to realize your dreams—and to fulfill your desires. There is always hope!

Q: Can you give us a short excerpt?

A: “There they were: three big ones. I could see them from afar as they began barking and sprinting down their owner’s driveway, launched like a triad of missiles at the prospect of fresh meat. The driveway was about the size of a football field, so I had some time to gather my thoughts. They seemed on pace to intercept me when I arrived at the end of what had become their racetrack. And Debbie was several feet behind me. Surely, no one on this isolated stretch of road would be investing in invisible fence technology, but I could hold out hope. Since Debbie had our only can of pepper spray, it would do me little good. And another troubling thought occurred to me: If I get through this pack in one piece, what about Debbie? She’s lagging behind and sure to encounter these snarling canines. Nevertheless, I wasn’t inclined to stop and serve up lunch on a silver platter to these mutts.”

Q: In your own experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?

A: We had a choice to make going into this project. Would we seek a traditional publishing solution, or venture out on our own? Swayed by the primary motivation to share the story, we decided to start our own publishing company, Open Road Press. In effect, we traded in one set of challenges for another, but we remained in control of our message and our destiny, at least until readers were to weigh in.

Q: What’s a typical day like for you?

A: Our days no longer seem typical. Since “retirement” from long-term jobs, we are both feeling our way along as we discover our new life together, and our new work models. Each day comes with its own unique challenges. Such is the nature of adventure in life!

Q: What’s next for you?

A: We’re in an exploratory stage and we have several options. Tim is considering a few ideas for another book. He also consults for two small businesses, and may seek to build upon that. Debbie wants to write a program on learning to read, using the Bible. She also has a few part-time teaching opportunities. Both of us continue to serve as volunteer hope coaches for TheHopeLine, an organization spotlighted in Two Are Better. TheHopeLine has made a difference in the lives of many young people, aged 13-29, who came to them in crisis. We count it a privilege to be involved with that organization.

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Tim and Debbie. We wish you much success!

A: Thank you for this opportunity to share our thoughts with your readers. We hope that our words have encouraged them to pursue their dreams anew.

About Tim and Debbie Bishop

Tim BishopTim Bishop

Originally from Maine, Tim Bishop has over thirty years of experience in business, first as a CPA, then for many years in various roles in the corporate world. In addition to consulting for small businesses, Tim serves as a Hope Coach for TheHopeLine, a nonprofit organization that seeks to reach, rescue, and restore hurting teens and young adults.

Debbie BishopDebbie Bishop

Debbie Bishop has taught for over twenty-five years, for the past ten years as a literacy specialist in Framingham, Massachusetts. She has a passion for reading and seeing that young people do it well. She also has high interest in recovery issues and encouraging others with her own triumphs over struggles earlier in her life. Debbie also serves as a Hope Coach for TheHopeLine.

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A Conversation with Linda Kovic-Skow, author of ‘French Illusions’

Linda Kovic-SkowLinda Kovic-Skow resides in Kirkland, Washington. She earned an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting in 1978 from North Seattle Community College and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Seattle University in 1985. She has been married for 27 years and has two daughters. An enthusiastic traveler, Linda also enjoys boating, gardening and socializing with friends. French Illusions, her debut memoir, is the culmination of a three-year project.

You can visit her website at www.lindakovicskow.com.

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Thank you for your interview, Linda. Can you tell us what your latest book, French Illusions, is all about?

In the summer of 1979, when I was twenty-one, I contracted to become an au pair for a wealthy French family in the Loire Valley. To secure the position, I pretended to speak the language, fully aware that my deception would be discovered once I arrived at my destination. Based on my diary, French Illusions captures my often challenging, real-life story inside and outside the Château de Montclair. The over-bearing, Madame Dubois, her accommodating husband Monsieur Dubois, and their two children are highlighted as I struggled to adapt to my new environment. Continually battling the language barrier, I signed up and attended classes at the local university in the nearby town of Tours, broadening my range of experiences. When I encountered, Adam, a handsome young student, my life with the Dubois family became more complicated, adding fuel to my internal battle for independence.

French IllusionsHow did you come up with the idea for your book?

About four years ago, after my husband and I dropped our youngest daughter off at college, I went through a sort of mid-life crisis. I missed being a mom and I wondered how I would fill the void. Sure I had my part-time bookkeeping business, but it consumed only a few hours a day and it wasn’t interesting any more. Something was missing, but what?

This prompted me to review what I like to call my “mid-life list.” This is similar to a “bucket list,” with an important twist. The idea was to refocus myself and figure out the things I wanted to do with my life in my fifties – while I could still do them. My list was short.

-Learn to play the piano

-Travel to Africa to see the elephants

-Travel to Tahiti and see the island of Bora Bora

-Travel back to France (with my family this time)

-Write a book

At the time, I didn’t own a piano and, with two daughters in college (on the east coast no less!), I couldn’t afford a trip to Africa or Tahiti. I had already traveled back to France in 2001 with my family, so that left me to examine the fifth item on my list more closely.  If I did write a book, would it be fiction or non-fiction? What genre would I choose?

The answers to my questions came to me in the shower (which is where many of my ideas seem to materialize, strangely enough). I decided to hunt down my diary from my au pair adventure in France and compose a memoir. It took me three years and countless hours to write French Illusions, but now I can scratch another item off my mid-life list.

What kind of research did you do before and during the writing of your book?

I have to admit writing my memoir was a lot more complex than I initially imagined it would be. My diary offered a great outline, but I had to research and fill in hard-to-find data on the Loire Valley, the Loire River and the town of Tours. Internet searches produced most of the information and travel books supplied the rest. From the beginning, difficult questions emerged, such as how to deal with the French sprinkled throughout the book, and whether or not to italicize my thoughts. Oh, and I really struggled with how much detail to include in my own love scenes.

If a reader can come away from reading your book with one valuable message, what would that be?

Set in the beautiful Loire Valley, French Illusions, my remarkable true story, will remind readers what it was like to be young, adventurous and filled with dreams. It’s not too late to create your own memories so go out and explore the world. Life’s for living, after all.

Can you give us a short excerpt?

It’s difficult to choose one excerpt, but I’m proud of the detailed picture I paint of a French baker in Songais.

“I watched as the other woman, maybe in her eighties, kneaded a large ball of dough at a table on the other side of the display window. Her gnarled fingers pulled and rolled the dough, adding flour until it gained the right consistency. At one point, she stopped to scratch her face , leaving a smudge of flour on her cheek. As I followed Madame out the door, our eyes met, her grin transforming her face from serious to radiant.”

In your experience, is it hard to get a nonfiction book published today? How did you do it?

I chose to self-publish my paperback through Dog Ear Publishing. They gave me control over design, editing, pricing and allowed me to retain all the rights to my book. Then, I contracted with BookBaby to create my eBook, which I published using my own Limited Liability Corporation called Dreamland Press. They were a good match as well because they charged a fee to create the eBook, but they don’t take a percentage of the royalties.

What’s a typical day like for you?

I start my day about 8:30 in the morning with a generous cup of coffee. After I check emails, I attend to book business for a few hours – promotions, research, my blog or twitter. At certain times of the month, I meet with clients or perform tasks associated with my bookkeeping business. Often, in the afternoon, after lunch, I walk the dog, run errands or write. I can’t sit for long or my neck hurts, so I switch back and forth between my desk and a standing computer station. Late in the day, my husband arrives home from work and that signals a break for dinner. After a few more hours writing at the computer, I finally shut things down at around nine o’clock. Ahhh, a glass of wine usually helps me unwind.

What’s next for you?

French Encore – the sequel to French Illusions!

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

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Read-a-Chapter: French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow

Read a Chapter is *NEW* added feature at As the Pages Turn! Here you’ll be able to read the first chapters of books of all genres to see if you like them before you buy them. Today we are featuring the memoir, French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow. Enjoy!

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French Illusions

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing (October 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1457514575
  • ISBN-13: 978-1457514579

In the summer of 1979, twenty-one-year-old Linda Kovic contracts to become an au pair for an wealthy French family in the Loire Valley. To secure the position, she pretends to speak the language, fully aware her deception will be discovered once she arrives at her destination. Based on the author’s diary, French Illusions captures Linda’s fascinating and often challenging real-life story inside and outside the Château de Montclair. The over-bearing, Madame Dubois, her accommodating husband, Monsieur Dubois, and their two children are highlighted as Linda struggles to adapt to her new environment. Continually battling the language barrier, she signs up and attends classes at the local university in the nearby town of Tours, broadening her range of experiences. When she encounters, Adam, a handsome young student, her life with the Dubois family becomes more complicated, adding fuel to her internal battle for independence.

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Chapter One

The Dubois Family

 

1

 

Je suis américaine. Je ne parle pas français.”

It took equal parts sign language, broken English and even more broken French before I understood the train attendant in Paris. Two more transfers? You’ve got to be kidding, I thought.

Cursing my high-heeled shoes, I dragged my luggage down endless platforms before boarding my final train. An hour later, just as the sun set across the Loire River, we pulled into Songais. Only three other people disembarked and went off their separate ways, hastening around me as I wrestled my suitcases into the station.

Filled with both apprehension and excitement, I surveyed the room, looking for Madame Dubois, but no one there fit her description. Wandering over to one of the tall arched windows, I pressed my face against the pane, peering left and right.

The Songais train station sat along a narrow cobbled street, lined with one white stone building after another, each attached to its neighbor. The structures varied in height, either two or three stories, their rooftops gabled, some with severe peaks. A few buildings presented Juliette balconies trimmed in black wrought iron, their built-in flower boxes filled with raspberry-red geraniums. Seeing no cars or people in either direction, I refocused my attention inside the building.

As I waited, a million thoughts jumbled through my head. How would Madame Dubois react when she discovered my lie? What would I do if she refused to let me stay? Was there a train back to Paris tonight? Even if I could persuade her to let me stay, what about her husband?

The longer I waited, the more agitated I became, starting whenever I heard the slightest sound. A woman entered the station, her heels tapping a steady beat on the linoleum floor. When I saw she carried a suitcase, my heartbeat moderated.

“Avez-vous du feu?” My body jerked as a handsome young man leaned toward me.

Fumbling through my reference guide, I found the word feu, which meant fire, and tried to make sense of his question. Convinced this was a come-on, I glared at him and refused to answer. His shoulders slumped and he shook his head as he walked away. A few minutes later, it occurred to me he merely wanted a light for his cigarette, but by then he had vanished.

“Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Kovic.”

I spun around and saw a tall, statuesque woman, far advanced in her pregnancy, walking toward me. A burst of adrenaline discharged in my brain. With each step, her dark blue wool coat opened, exposing a large belly. Stopping in front of me, her lips forming a thin smile, she extended her hand in one swift motion.

“Bonsoir, Madame Dubois.” My voice quivered as I clasped her palm against mine.  “Good evening” was one phrase I managed to learn, but what to say next? “Parlez-vous anglais?”

Madame Dubois frowned and tilted her head sideways. “Yes, I speak English fluently, but you speak French, correct?”

“The truth is, I speak only a few phrases.” Inhaling deeply, I continued. “I realize this must come as a shock, but I hope you’ll let me explain before you make a decision whether or not to let me stay.”

Her eyes hardened, the color drained from her face. Seconds ticked away as I swallowed firmly against the bile rising in my throat.

Finally, she spoke. “Clearly, I am stunned by this turn of events, but you are here now. As you can see, I do need an au pair very soon. We will discuss the situation with my husband and decide what to do then.”

She motioned with her hand for me to follow her and moved toward the exit. I felt so relieved by her words, it took me a moment to react and pick up my bags.

With her nose raised higher than necessary, Madame Dubois led us around the few remaining passengers and out the door to her Peugeot.

“Put your things back here,” she said, opening the trunk with her keys.

I shoved my bags inside with a grunt, slid into the front seat and Madame pulled out of the train station’s side parking lot. As she maneuvered the car through the town’s slender streets, I studied my new patron. She appeared to be in her early thirties. Her thick blonde hair was pulled back from her face into a low ponytail, emphasizing her prominent nose. Unadorned by makeup or lipstick, no one would have called her pretty, but her alabaster skin glowed flawlessly, and her reserved demeanor suggested self-assurance in her social standing.

Hoping to ease the tension, I ventured, “Is it far to your home?”

“No, we live only a short distance from town.”

“How convenient,” I said, twisting to gaze out the window, marveling at an ancient stone church and then catching a glimpse of a grand, elegant chateau rising above the town, its multi-towered turrets extending skyward.

“Have you lived here long?”

“I grew up in Songais and so did my mother before me.” Madame Dubois’s voice sounded cool and aloof. “I would not consider living anywhere else.”

Her chilly reception increased my anxiety. I shifted my position, trying to relax my clenched teeth. At least she didn’t put me back on the train immediately. Somehow I would have to persuade her and her husband to give me another chance and let me stay on as their au pair.

 

Five minutes later, Madame pulled the car off the main highway onto a private road marked with an ornate metal gate. We progressed slowly along a gravel driveway through a forest so dense it formed a tunnel in front of us. As Madame rounded a bend in the road, I caught my first glimpse of the Château de Monclair on the hillside.

Built in the mid-1800s, it stood three stories high, topped by tall gables decorated with medallions and leaf designs. Elegant dormer windows on two sides protruded from the roof. Red bricks dominated the building, but cream-colored stones framed all eight of the massive paned windows, four on the first level and four on the second. An intricate stone railing encircled the court off the first floor, and the area below opened up to a massive expanse of grass lawn. We pulled up to the front entrance and I glanced at Madame Dubois, my mouth agape. “It’s unbelievable.”

She smiled and dipped her forehead, a regal motion like a queen to a servant.

The interior of the Château de Montclair proved equally impressive. The ten-thousand-square-foot structure housed eight bedrooms, five bathrooms, a library, and various formal and casual rooms. Moving around the interior, our heels clicked on the gleaming marble floors, the sound resonating upward from the foyer, emphasizing the soaring grandeur of the building.

Twelve-foot ceilings, six-foot tall mahogany wainscoting and intricate built-in dark wood cabinetry highlighted the superior artisanship of the 19th century. Period furniture and ancestral art, placed to perfection, made me feel I was touring a museum rather than a home. In almost every room, elaborate colorful flower arrangements welcomed us. The bouquets looked freshly picked—possibly from a garden somewhere on the grounds.

Several times Madame Dubois hastened me along, her fingers gripping my elbow when I stopped to gawk at a sculpture or a painting. “Come this way and I’ll show you the upper floors of the chateau.”

We climbed the stairs to the second landing and strolled down the hallway, Madame pointing toward closed doors as we passed by. “These are the children’s rooms, but they are already in bed.”

My eyebrows lifted in surprise when she said this. Leaving the children alone to fetch me from the station seemed irresponsible, but then again, it was only a five-minute drive.

When we reached the master bedroom, Madame grasped both handles on the double doors and opened them with a flourish. A large, exquisitely carved mahogany bed dominated the room, complemented on either side by matching nightstands. On the opposite wall, a mirrored dressing table accommodated several perfume bottles with crystal stoppers. Beside the six-foot tall window, a dozen burgundy-red roses sat on their own stand, and two graceful armchairs took their places nearby. The royal and light blue silk bedspread and elegant floor length blue-patterned drapes finished the room.

Standing still, drinking in the scene before me, I obeyed with reluctance when Madame Dubois waved me toward the exit.

Continuing up the stairs to the third floor, we entered the first bedroom on the left, one of four on this floor.

“This room is reserved for my au pairs,” Madame Dubois said, prompting a wide-eyed double take from me.

The diminutive room contained a graceful barrel-arched dormer window with two built-in wardrobes on either side. Below the window, a compact desk invited au pairs to sit and write while enjoying the view of the valley below. A small, narrow bed rested against the opposite wall, and a comfortable stuffed chair filled the corner. The adjacent room contained a small sink, but nothing else.

“It’s lovely, but where is the bathroom?”

“Down the hall,” she replied, pointing with her forefinger. “I suppose all of this is quite different from your home in the United States?”

“That’s for sure. I never imagined I would live in a place like this.”

Madame Dubois crossed her arms under her chest. “We will see . . .  My husband and I will listen to your explanation first.”

Descending the stairs, I contrasted my own home with the Château de Montclair. Raised in a humble family with very few extravagances, my reference for this kind of wealth came from television and the movies. My parents shopped at second-hand stores and discount grocers, always settling for the less expensive choice in order to save a dime or two. Over time, they saved and accumulated money, acquiring several low-income rental properties. Influenced by hardships during the Great Depression and World War II and always looking toward the future, they remained hesitant to spend money on anything deemed “unnecessary.”

For the last three years, I lived in one of their apartments while I worked and attended college. Although I appreciated the discounted rent, I dreamt of one day moving into a chic residence in a more sophisticated part of town.

Madame’s voice brought me back to the present. “I’ll pour us some lemonade, and we can wait for Armand in the salon.”

Holding my drink, I followed her into the room, and we sat in two armless chairs near the fireplace. A few minutes later, Monsieur Dubois, debonair in an expensive business suit and tie, sauntered into the room.

Broad-chested and of average height, his brown eyes and olive skin augmented his good looks and suggested a Mediterranean influence. He glanced my way, but before acknowledging my presence, he greeted his wife. Strands of dark wavy hair fell forward as he kissed her on the cheek.

He then turned to me. “Bonsoir, Mademoiselle Kovic.”

The bile revisited my throat. I pushed it down.

Armand, Mademoiselle Kovic ne parle pas français,” she told him. Miss Kovic doesn’t speak French.

Monsieur Dubois scowled and wasted no time dissecting the matter. “I do not understand. The agency assured us that you spoke French. Who wrote the letters for you? Why would you take such a chance?”

“I know it was foolish of me and I’m sorry.” Swallowing back tears, I tried in earnest to explain how and why I had deceived them, my voice cracking on several occasions.

After I finished, neither of them spoke, their cold blank stares daunting. At last Madame Dubois broke the silence. “This is your explanation?”

She didn’t understand how much I wanted the flight attendant position with World Airways. I’ve never wanted anything so much in all my life, I thought.

Desperate now, I leaned forward and offered some final heartfelt words. “You have every right to be angry with me, but I really am a good person. I promise to work very hard as your au pair, and I’ll practice my French daily if you’ll only agree to let me stay.”

A look passed between Madame and Monsieur Dubois, and then he rose from his seat. “We will need a few minutes alone to discuss the matter. Would you mind waiting in the foyer?”

“No, of course not.”

I exited the room, doubt swirling inside my brain. Did I convince them? I wasn’t sure.

While I waited, I chewed my bottom lip, pacing back and forth, my hands clasped behind my back. When Monsieur called me back into the room, my lungs froze in my chest.

“Madame and I have decided to let you stay. As you can see, we have very little choice with the baby coming so soon. We hope this deception is the last we will experience while you are here.”

A long lingering breath escaped from my mouth. “Thank you so much.”

Monsieur Dubois offered me a tenuous smile and his voice softened. “I am sure you are exhausted. Why don’t you go up to bed? Everything will look brighter in the morning after a good night’s rest.”

AMAZON | BARNES & NOBLE | ITUNES

Reprinted with permission from French Illusions by Linda Kovic-Skow. © 2012 by Dog Ear Publishing

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