Tag Archives: Paris

Read-a-Chapter: Byzantine Gold, by Chris Karslen

read a chapterRead 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 romantic thriller, Byzantine Gold, by Chris Karslen. Enjoy!

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A sunken warship from the Byzantine Era carrying an unusual cargo of gold has been found off the coast of Northern Cyprus. News of the valuable cache has attracted the attention of a terrorist cell. They plan to attack the recovery team’s campsite and steal the artifacts. On the Black Market, the sale of the relics will buy them additional weapons.

 Charlotte Dashiell, an American archaeologist, and her lover, Atakan Vadim, a Turkish government agent, are scheduled to be part of the recovery team that brings up the artifacts. While en route to Cyprus, they find themselves caught in the crosshairs of Maksym Tischenko, a Ukrainian contract killer bent on revenge. Charlotte, Atakan and Tischenko share a grim history. As a result, Tischenko is a man who will stop at nothing to achieve his goal—seeing them both dead.

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Chapter One

Paris-April

Charlotte and Atakan stopped midway on Sacre-Coeur’s steep staircase to admire the basilica’s architecture. The Romanesque-Byzantine influence reminded her of historical buildings in Istanbul, their home. With the variegated onion-shaped domes and turrets similar to minarets, the church was one of the more unique city structures.

“So beautiful,” Charlotte said, “like an artifact on top of the skyline.” Atakan hadn’t said much as they came up the hill. She wasn’t sure if he was impressed or not.

“Reminds me of an Ottoman wedding cake,” he replied.

“Seeing this makes me anxious to start the recovery project,” Charlotte said, adding, “provided they select me for the team.”

“They will.”

Atakan embraced her from behind and nuzzled her neck, the uber sensitive side, then rested his chin on her head. She giggled, wrapped her arms around his and pressed deeper into his chest. He rarely showed his romantic side in public. Apparently, the romance of Paris had inspired him. She opened her mouth to say as much, but changed her mind. Why spoil the moment?

“You have a taste for Byzantine style jewelry. The Cyprus shipwreck is from that period. Perhaps we’ll get lucky and find a cache of jewelry at the site. You’ll have the opportunity to hold authentic pieces.” He released his embrace and moved next to her. “Shall we?”

A faint shiver trickled down her spine with the loss of his body’s warmth.

They continued to the entrance and inside.

“Let’s go to the dome first,” Charlotte said.

They climbed the narrow, spiral staircase eighty-three meters to the top, holding hands as they strolled along the gallery enjoying the panoramic sight.

Atakan stopped to study the elegant capitals topping the support columns. “Excellent stonework,” he said with is archaeologist’s eye for detail.

She leaned over the railing to people watch. Below her, guides led their clusters of tourists to the apse, famous for its golden mosaics and from there to different quiet corners of the basilica to point out the highlights.

“Charlotte, turn around. Smile.” Atakan played with the camera in his phone for a few seconds then snapped a photo. “I’ll be right back. I want one of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe.”

She continued to people watch from her birds-eyes view. A lone man in a baseball cap walked up the main aisle. He wore sunglasses in spite of the overcast April sky. He kept his hands in the pockets of his bomber jacket and looked straight ahead, showing no interest in the stain-glass windows or other architectural features.

She turned her attention to the constant stream of worshipers who took seats on pews away from the tour groups. Some knelt and prayed, others sat with eyes closed, their hands folded, and listened to the nuns singing.

A large group of tourists and the lone male approached the chancel, directly below Charlotte. The man stepped aside to allow the guide and her charges to pass. Then, he removed his cap and glasses, looked up at Charlotte, and smiled.

The past terror she’d buried and fought to forget returned with a vengeance. Rocked, she sucked in a fear driven gasp and reflexively jerked back.

She shook off the panic. Angry with herself for the way she reacted and pissed the bastard still had that effect. She peered over the rail again. Maybe she was wrong.

She wasn’t. The same brush-cut hair, the same dimpled smile as he kept his eyes on her, the handsome Slavic face was forever etched in her memory…the face of the man who’d kidnapped and tortured her.

Heart pounding, she spun, dashed to where Atakan snapped pictures and grabbed his arm. “Quick, Tischenko is here.”

“Charlotte—” He followed as she raced down the twisting staircase. Visitors coming from the other direction flattened themselves to the wall, out of her way and his.

When they reached the main floor, Atakan pushed past her and blocked her path. He held her by the upper arms. “Charlotte, stop for a moment. Where did you see him?”

She tried to pull away. “Here—he was walking down the center aisle,” she stressed, searching the faces in the crowd of visitors.

Tischenko was gone.

“I tell you, I saw him.”

Atakan continued to hold onto her as he scanned the aisles and pews. “I don’t see anyone resembling him, let alone the man himself.”

“He must’ve realized we’d chase after him. Come on, he can’t have gone far.” She broke from Atakan and hurried along the aisle with the fewest tourists and out the doors.

She hesitated on the portico. The ever-present musician buskers with their open instrument cases and people resting from the long climb littered the stairs.

Her eyes darted from one person to the next. “He’s wearing a black leather jacket and ball cap. He’s not here. Which way do you think he went?” she asked, turning to Atakan. “Maybe the metro—Abbesses is the closest stop.”

“If I were running from a wild woman, I wouldn’t risk getting caught at a station waiting for a train.”

“I bet he ran through the gardens toward Place Saint-Pierre.” She glanced at her watch. “Almost noon. The square will be swarming with families and lunchtime diners, easy to blend in and get lost.”

She threaded her way through the crowd toward Saint-Pierre. Ahead, a fair-haired man, in a black leather jacket walked at a brisk pace by the merry-go-round playing a tinny version of the Star Wars Theme. Jogging faster, Charlotte caught up to him and yanked on his arm.

The man looked momentarily stunned.

Not Tischenko.

“Pardon monsieur,” Atakan apologized and took Charlotte aside. “Enough!”

“I—”

“Enough.”

“I’d swear—”

“It was not him at the church.”

She hadn’t thought of Tischenko in months. How likely was it for her to imagine seeing him? But if it was him, he did a great job of vaporizing.

She laid her head on Atakan’s shoulder for a long moment. He rubbed her back along the spine until the adrenaline rush passed and she calmed.

“You’re hungry,” she said at last, hearing his stomach rumble. “Le Barouder is charming and nearby.”

“No. We’re not eating anywhere in Montmartre. I don’t want to be in the middle of my food and have to chase after you because you think you’ve seen Tischenko again. We’ll find a café by the hotel.”

“Pretend for a minute, I’m right. It’s—”

If it’s true, his presence here is a coincidence.”

“You don’t believe in coincidence.”

“In this case, I do.” Atakan bent and brushed her lips with a light kiss. “So intelligent and lovely, a pity you are crazy.”

“That’s what makes life with me exciting,” she said, with feigned, wide-eyed innocence.

“I’m not sure exciting is the right word.”

Still uneasy, Charlotte scanned the crowd one last time.

Across the square, Maksym Tischenko stepped from the rear of the crepe vendor’s stall. Atakan and the Dashiell woman returned the way they came. Maksym took side streets that didn’t intersect with the one Atakan and Dashiell were on. At the main avenue, he hailed a cab and instructed the driver to take him to Hotel Du Danube, where the couple was staying.

 

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Read a Chapter: Women’s Fiction ‘The Third Grace’ by Deb Elkink

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 women’s fiction, The Third Grace, by Deb Elkink. Enjoy!

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  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Greenbrier Book Company, LLC (December 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1937573001
  • ISBN-13: 978-1937573003

WINNER OF 2012 BOOK OF YEAR AWARD
The past casts a long shadow — especially when it points to a woman’s first love.
Her name was Mary Grace until she fell in love with the French exchange student visiting her family’s Nebraska farm. François renamed her “Aglaia” — after the beautiful Third Grace of Greek mythology — and set the seventeen-year-old girl longing for something more than her parents’ simplistic life and faith. Now, fifteen years later, Aglaia works as a costume designer in Denver. Her budding success in the city’s posh arts scene convinces her that she’s left the country bumpkin far behind. But “Mary Grace” has deep roots, as Aglaia learns during a business trip to Paris. Her discovery of sensual notes François jotted into a Bible during that long-ago fling, a silly errand imposed by her mother, and the scheming of her sophisticated mentor conspire to create a thirst in her soul that neither evocative daydreams nor professional success can quench. The Third Grace is a captivating debut novel that will take you on a dual journey across oceans and time — in the footsteps of a woman torn between her rural upbringing and her search for self.

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Chapter One

Light from the floor lamp winked at Aglaia through the garnet wine as her guest swirled the glass upward—winked as though it shared Aglaia’s secret, just waiting for her to ask her question again. But she held back. She was pacing herself . . .

She studied the profile of Dr. Lou Chapman, the critical eye and the nose thrust aggressively into the bouquet of the vintage. She shifted on the sofa and reached for her goblet to mimic Lou’s actions, careful not to slosh her own wine over the rim. She didn’t want to appear gauche; it was awkward enough trying to draw outfrom Lou the information she needed to prevail in her search.

Maybe she shouldn’t have asked the professor up following the theater tonight after all, she thought. Work had beendemanding of late, and this afternoon’s traffic brutal in the drenching rain. She’d arrived back at her apartment with no time to slouch into relaxation—just a few minutes to pin her hair into a messy nest and slip on the sapphire chemise that now lay against her skin, silky as a French boy’swhisper.

“Nice legs,” Lou said.

Aglaia crossed them instinctively but caught herself before saying thanks, realizing just in time that the compliment was intended for the wine. Feeling foolish, she straightened her back and feigned a worldly, knowing air.

Lou picked up the bottle, tilted it towards the light, and read the label through the bottom half of trendy spectacles. “Where did you purchase it?”

“At Santé on East Sixth Avenue,” Aglaia said with a shrug, as though she stopped in at the posh Denver cellar regularly on her way home from work rather than just the once—last week for a tasting with her wine appreciation class. But Aglaia wondered if she’d ever truly appreciate wine. This bottle of imported pinot noir had cost her dearly but it was worth the money to gain Lou’s confidence and, besides, Aglaia’s growing collection of corks in the green bowl on the coffee table proved she was recovering from her habit of temperance.

With eyes closed Lou sampled the wine, swished, sucked air in past pursed lips. “Subdued, earthy with a subtle berry, long finish. Excellent choice.”

Aglaia couldn’t detect earth or berry, but she was glad now she hadn’t caved in to her first impulse to grab a domestic merlot at half the price.

“A toast to your enduring success in the arts,” Lou said, wine stem raised, “even if it is in the private sector instead of the university, where talent like yours belongs.”

Glasses clinked; the two women sipped.

Aglaia swallowed the astringent and watched Lou’s eyebrows, the most animated part of her face. They signaled her mood, usually dipping downward at the outer edges in world-weariness but arched now in approval. Lou’s slate-cold eyes themselves were flat, two dimensional, and gave nothing away.

Aglaia angled her glass and looked into its blood-red interior. Wine was a symbol of communion, she thought, and she was using it with carnal deliberation to seal this relationship that had so much to offer her. As she lifted the glass to her lips again, she hoped her own silhouette projected an image of glamor. Alcohol had been taboo in the home of her youth. In her current lapsed state, the mere thought of consuming it was intoxicatingin itself—and emboldening. She was about to pose her question again when Lou spoke up.

“The costumes in tonight’s performance were remarkable, but your Phantom stole the show.”

“Not myPhantomexactly,” Aglaia said.

“Don’t be coy. You’re obviously an accomplished artisan and you deserve to be discovered.”

Heat rushed to Aglaia’s cheeks but she knew she’d earned the praise. Her boss at Incognito Costume Shop wouldn’t let another employee touch the feature pieces contracted for the production, and they’d shown well on stage tonight.

Earlier this evening the curtains had closed to robust applause, but Aglaia waited until the last scalloped hem and tip of a feathered cap disappeared into the wings before joining in with the rest of the audience. When she recognized a critic from the Denver Post dashing backstage for an interview with the cast, she knew for certain that the name of Aglaia Klassen, up-and-coming costume designer, would appear again in the weekend reviews; her creations had worked their usual opening night magic. Indeed, Aglaia herself had been transported in her imagination to the play’s setting of the world-famous opera house in Paris.

Paris! It was the city of her dreams where, in just three days’ time, she’d finally be walking in the flesh. Aglaia took another sip to sober her elation over the imminent business trip, particularly regarding her plans for how she’d spend her free time there. Of course this would include a whirlwind tour of the city sights but other, admittedly idealistic, aspirations were at the forefront of her mind and had been all evening.

After the play, as Lou had driven through the city to take her home, Aglaia barely heard her scholarly assessment of the musical score because she was caught up in her thoughts of international travel. When Aglaia did speak, it was to articulate the undercurrent running though her subconscious for most of the performance—for most of her life, it seemed. That was when she’d casually brought the subject up with Lou.

“I wonder how someone can just disappear in Paris.”

Lou, slowing to make the turn onto Aglaia’s street, had said, “I suppose you’re talking about the masked villain spiriting the fair maiden away to his lair beneath the OpéraGarnier.”

“No, I mean nowadays, in real life. How would someone find a missing person in Paris?”

“That’s hardly the first question that comes to mind in critiquingThe Phantom of the Opera,” Lou had said, and she coughed out a laugh as if expecting an analysis of the play’s Faustian implications or something as cerebral. Aglaia’s own interests were much more intuitive, and she’d let the matter drop as Lou pulled into the space facing the apartment block, armed the car lock, and followed her up the steps while pontificating on the literary elements of the script.

Lou had remarked on Aglaia’s use of the Greek mask of tragedy as a pattern for the Phantom’s own disguise—a clever adaptation—and her mirroring of Hellenistic fashion in the simplicity of the heroine’s robe, guessing correctly that Aglaia’s inspiration had come from the Greek style of the Opéra’s architecture.

But all the while, right up to the time Lou had opened the wine, Aglaia was reviewing and reframing her question—her quest—regarding Paris. Lou, a sociologist at Platte River University and a jetsetter, was versed in things European, and Aglaia could use an expert at this point. Her Internet surveillance over the past month had turned up nothing very helpful.

Now Lou plucked a cat hair from the arm of the loveseat and Aglaia regretted not having vacuumed more thoroughly—Lou probably had a cleaning lady. Before the other woman could resume her intellectualized thread of the discussion on the evening’s entertainment, and at the risk of sounding fixated, Aglaia ventured a third query.

“So, Lou, if you were looking for someone in Paris, where would you start?”

This time Lou heard her, though she frowned. It clearly wasn’t her topic of choice. “Well, maybe I’d launch an investigation through the préfecture or contact the American embassy. Sightseers must go missing now and then. Or,” she gibed, “are you afraid of getting lost yourself when you’re over there, all alone in the big, bad city?”

Aglaia ignored her sarcasm. “It’s not a tourist issue.”

“You’re referring to a resident?” Lou asked with her eyebrow cocked. “The telephone book then, I suppose.”

The local phone book, of course. Aglaia would start with that notion as soon as she got to Paris. It might be a long shot, but she had this one chance for disclosure and she wasn’t going to let it slip away. She knew now how she would begin her on-site manhunt and felt herself unwinding for the first time all night.

But then the apartment buzzer rasped.

She didn’t expect anyone. Before she could answer it, the door was bumped open by her elderly mother. Tina Klassen, cheeks perpetually rouged by prairie wind and high blood pressure, was caught midsentence as though continuing an interrupted dialogue, her Low German accent still discernible.

“. . . and your father is in such a hurry to get home, Mary Grace. When harvest is wet like this and so late, you know how tense he is.”

She pronounced it “tanse” and, more out of habit than necessity, threw a Plautdietsch word into her ramble here and there—about the rain rotting the crops on the Laundt and about how Henry was waiting in the Trock outside. The tongue of the Klassen heritage was still spoken in many rural Mennonite households, but it was just partially understood and strictly avoided by Aglaia herself. She hoped Lou didn’t catch Tina’s flat, sticky words and the use of her old name, which Mom still hadn’t given up after all these years—or wouldn’t give up.

Maybe it was just as well. Tina wasn’t able to pronounce “Aglaia” correctly either, no matter how many times she was reminded that it rhymed with “I’ll pay ya.”

Tina pushed farther into the apartment. “Your father needed to pick up a tractor part none of the local dealerships had, and I don’t like it when he drives alone so long and so far. I only have a minute, dear. I brought you some fresh-baked Zwieback.

Aglaia was trying to lose a few pounds before the trip but—oh!—those rolls smelled delicious. The aroma disarmed her; she knew she should be hustling Tina out the door but couldn’t find her words.

“Did you get my parcel?” her mother asked, not yet noticing Lou sitting on Aglaia’s couch. “I didn’t know I was coming to town or I would have waited to bring it along and saved the postage. But I wanted to be sure it got to you before you left on your trip.”

In fact, when Aglaia received the package yesterday after work, she immediately began to tear at the brown paper, piqued about what her mother might be sending, until she saw the two-word title on the spine glaring through torn edges: Holy Bible. Annoyance at her mother’s intrusiveness soured her then and rose again now like acid in the back of her throat. Tina knew Aglaia was disinterested in religion—and that was an understatement.

Before Aglaia could shut the closet door, her mother spotted the packet amongst the shoes in the shadow of the coats and reached down for it. “Why, it’s right here,” she said. “Didn’t you read the note to call me?” Aglaia hadn’t gotten that far in her unwrapping, and she recoiled as Tina shoved the bundle at her. Then her mother glanced up, for the first time seeing Lou in the living room. “Oh, my,” Tina said, tightening the knot on her kerchief, “I didn’t know you had company.”

Tina seemed to have shriveled even since the last time she and Henry made the two-hundred-mile pilgrimage to Denver—a city, a state, a lifetime away from their Nebraska farm. Aglaia looked down on her though she wasn’t tall herself. She looked as far down on Mom as she looked up at Lou. Tina’s jacket didn’t hide the dowdy housedress and her shoes were muddy. Aglaia was sorry again that she ever gave her mother a key to the apartment. Resigned she made introductions.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you.” Lou arose and offered a manicured hand. “Do come in,” she said, as if she were the hostess. Aglaia didn’t blame Lou for wanting to compensate for her own uncomfortable silence.

But Tina, a teetotaler, now eyed up the wine glasses and Aglaia could almost hear her judgmental thoughts about her daughter’s rejection of long-held Klassen values. Aglaia couldn’t risk letting Tina make further comment in Lou’s presence and took hold of her mother’s arm to steer her towards the outer hallway.

“Isn’t that Dad honking outside? You have a long drive home tonight.” That was true; they wouldn’t get back until well after midnight. “I’ll walk you down.”

“No, no. I need to explain.” Tina, flustered, ripped the butcher’s paper fully off the cumbersome black leather book, exposing it to Lou’s purview. “I found this when I was digging around under the basement stairs. I haven’t opened that trunk since the summer the French boy came to stay with us. You remember?”

Did she remember? It was all Aglaia could do to keep her memories under wraps.

Tina was opening the Bible now to the dedication page. “It says, ‘Presented to François Vivier from the Klassens.’ I thought to myself, that boy must have meant to take this home with him, since he carried it to church every Sunday he was with us, and to every Wednesday prayer meeting.”

Horrified, Aglaia opened her mouth to protest, but no sound emerged. This was worse than she first imagined—worse than her mother simply sending her a Bible for reasons of maternal concern over her spiritual state. Tina was trotting out the one aspect of Aglaia’s life she’d been trying to hide, especially from Lou. Not only was this a Bible that linked her to a personal religion, but it was the very Bible owned by the person who’d totally reformed her religion.

“He wrote notes into the margins, starting right here in Genesis,” Tina said. She pointed to a finely penciled script but, thankfully, didn’t read the misquotation aloud: In the beginning, the gods created.Tina went on, “It was too small for me to make out without my reading glasses there in the basement, and Henry was about to leave for town so I had to rush if I wanted to get it into the mail. Can you see what it says?” Tina held the book out at arm’s length for a moment before giving up. “Anyway, I decided that, since you were going to Paris, you should pack it into your suitcase and take it to him.”

Aglaia bit down hard to stop herself from exclaiming and kept her face turned towards her mom so that the other woman wouldn’t discern her mortification. She heard Lou say under her breath, “Ah, hence the questions,” and was immobilized by her mother’s proposition—in fact, by her own resolution—to find François, which sounded completely ridiculous when spoken aloud.

“Mom, I have no idea where he lives,” she said, but in her heart she wanted to shout, If only I knew where he lived!

Tina responded, “He said he was going back to that famous school. What was it called?”

“The Sorbonne, but that was years ago.” Aglaia kept her voice curt, not wanting to give Lou—who was openly eavesdropping—any reason to suppose she’d put up with the nonsense of taking a Bible along to France. “Who knows what’s happened to him since? It’d be impossible to find him.”

Aglaia doubted her mother would yield to the argument. Once she got a bone in her teeth, she was stubborn. Aglaia wouldn’t mention that looking for François had been her daydream all along. Hoping her own voice didn’t reveal her desire, she quickly added, “Besides, I’m in Paris for only a few days.” Only a few days allotted to explore the world’s most elegant city, an impossible few days to run an old heartthrob to ground.

Tina’s wrinkles deepened as her forehead puckered. True to her nature, she persisted, “I just know he’d want this precious Büak.”

As if François would care about that Bible, Aglaia thought.

Tina fiddled with the cover, thumbing the gilded edges that on her Bible had long ago lost their shine. A museum postcard slipped from between the pages to the floor, image facing up, immediately recognizable to Aglaia. She hadn’t seen the postcard for fifteen years and she stared at it, transfixed all over again by the sculpture of the three nude women. Helpless, she plummeted into the memory of that first viewing like a pebble into the pond behind the barn, once again sitting with her family around the table with François on the warm May night he came to them—seated close to him, touched by his breath.

Tarrying together, the three marble nudes stand silken in the light, immortal young sisters polished with the ages—arm encircling waist, head on shoulder. Mary Grace is intoxicated with them, captured on one of the many glossy cards he brought to show off Paris to his American host family. She doesn’t pay attention to his descriptions of the Eiffel Tower or the bridges, but only to the timbre of his voice, the poetry weaving through his hesitant English.

He turns to her for a moment and says, “They have your name, non? Les TroisGrâces—Mary Grace.”

Her brother grins and kicks her under the table but she ignores him. She’s consumed with the statues and with François’s fingertips tracing the two-dimensional outline, caressing the nymphen forms as though they’re warm and living flesh. She’s disconcerted because her own womanhood is so new. Does he mean to excite her? 

Lou stepped forward to pick up the card before Aglaia shook her reverie.

Tina squinted at it. “I hope that French Jung didn’t take such a picture into church with him.”

“Perhaps he was using it as a bookmark,” Lou said. She turned the card over and Aglaia saw it was blank except for the museum information printed on the back. “Pradier, 1790-1852. Les TroisGrâces—the Three Graces,” Lou read aloud. “Your François appreciated the female form, I see—good taste.”

Aglaia attempted to change the course of conversation. “Mom, it’s too bad I didn’t know you were coming tonight or I’d have gotten you and Dad tickets for the play.” Not that they ever attended the stage.

But Lou, looking at the photo again, continued in spite of Aglaia’s red herring. “Pradier sculpted in the neo-classical style and used the ancient Greek mythsas subject material. The Three Graces, companions of Aphrodite, were very popular, and you can see that Pradier included their signature themes of fertility, beauty, and hospitality in this work. Note the way he utilized plants and jewels to get his idea across.” She stretched her arm out so that mother and daughter could see what she meant, but Aglaia knew Lou’s point would be lost on Tina. “The mythology of Greece made its imprint throughout history along many avenues,” Lou said. “For example, the plot of The Phantom of the Opera may well have had its origins in the story of Europa, the beautiful maiden who was stolen away by Zeus disguised as a bull.”

Tina scrunched her face in confusion.

As for Aglaia, she’d first heard the Greek tale whispered into her eager young ear by François’s impassioned young lips, and then read it again in Bulfinch’s Mythology, a text she discovered in twelfth grade on the shelves of the school library after her curiosity about the gods had been aroused. Her reading matter since her childhood days might surprise and even disturb Tina if she understood its content; it wasn’t quite the holy pap Aglaia was brought up on. But Tina’s disapproval wasn’t her concern at the moment, for Lou—satisfied with her examination of the postcard—was now craning towards the Bible as though she wanted to get a good close look at it next.

“Mom, I’ll take that,” Aglaia said. She reached for the book.

Tina handed it off to her readily. “Then you will return it to the boy? I knew you’d agree that it’s just meant to be.”

Aglaia intended only to get it out of sight—out of Lou’s sight, especially. The thought of delivering it was preposterous. But she zipped it into the front pouch of hersuitcase, packed and ready on the entry table. There was time enough to deal with it later, after she got rid of her mother and recouped her image with Lou, who probably thought she was totally incompetent about now.

Reprinted from The Third Grace by Deb Elkink. © 2012 by Greenbriar Book Company.

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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.

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Amazon Kindle Store| Smashwords | LinkedIn | Barnes & Noble | Official Tour Page

 

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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A Conversation with Gregory Earls, author of “Empire of Light”

When Gregory Earls isn’t eating at Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles, he pays the bills by taking up space at 20th Century Fox in the Feature Post Production Department. He’s a proud graduate of Norfolk State University and the American Film Institute, where he studied cinematography. He’s an award-winning director who has amassed a reel of short films, music videos, and (yes) a wedding video or two. Steadfastly butchering the Italian language since 2002, he hopes to someday master the language just enough to inform his in-laws how much he loves their daughter, Stefania, who was born and raised in Milan, Italy. Gregory currently resides in Venice, California where he goes giddy every time he spots that dude who roller skates and plays the electric guitar at the same time. During football season, he can be found at the Stovepiper Lounge, a Cleveland Browns bar in the Valley where he roots for the greatest football team in the history of Cleveland.

Visit his website at www.gregoryearls.com.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Gregory. Can you tell us what your latest book, Empire Of Light, is all about?

A: Empire Of Light is kind of a coming of age novel. It revolves around an insecure film school student named Jason and his first trip to Europe. His voyage flips into mad adventure when his vintage Brownie camera magically unleashes all the sex, violence, religion and humor captured on canvas by the infamous artist, Caravaggio. During the journey, he finds the tools he needs to become a confident man and an artist.

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

A: Besides Jason, there’s his film school mentor and Cinematography Dean, Howard Edgerton. Edge is an old Hollywood cameraman, and he reminds Jason of an older silver-haired, Cary Grant. He also talks and thinks fast, like he’s in a Howard Hawks film. His idiosyncratic trait is that he’s always tipping Jason a twenty, in hopes that he’ll use it to improve his crappy wardrobe.

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

A: This effort is a bit autobiographical; and it definitely references celebrities behind the camera and in the art world. However, this is an aberration for me. Most of the time, my characters are made up.

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

A: When writing screenplays I’ve been hyper aware of the plot, mostly because you have to be conscious of production logistics (depending on the project). I was a bit loose with having the plot nailed down before beginning Empire Of Light. After being pigeon holed all these years, it was nice to let the plot somewhat develop organically.

Q: Your book is set in Los Angeles, Paris, Rome and Naples. Can you tell us why you chose these cities in particular?

A: Don’t forget Cleveland! Ha! This reminds me of that famous Willie Sutton quote. When asked why he robbed banks Willie replied, “Because that’s where the money is.” Caravaggio doesn’t have a large body of work, but these three cities seem to have the most of ‘em. If I do a sequel, I might have to include Texas, Dublin and Sicily.

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

A: Jason is a fish out of water, but he’s trying to evolve and grow some legs. He’s not the “Ugly American,” because the guy attempts to speak the language, even though he butchers Italian like it’s a side of beef. It’s funny and awkward to see him stumble through a new world and try to come out on the other end intact. His life, eventually, depends on him accepting his lot in life and embracing it.

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

A: Jason is on the plane headed to Paris. A rude Frenchman sitting behind him has just shaken the hell out of Jason’s headrest in protest of him reclining his seat too far back. A gorgeous flight attendant is on the scene to apply justice.

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

A:

“There’s my little pyromaniac!”

Goddamn it. Edgerton is here.

Edge has been visiting sets all year, making sure we don’t do anything stupid (i.e. illegal Power Box tie-ins). I turn around and find him leaning on the camera, dressed as if he’s going to visit Hef at the Playboy mansion, fifty years ago.

“Tell me son, just what the hell are you wearing?” he asks, referring to my Flaming Carrot t-shirt.

“The Flaming Carrot? He fights crime while wearing this giant carrot mask with a huge flame shooting out the top of his head.”

“Why you little pervert. I know you little Neanderthals won’t wear ties on set anymore, but do you have to advertise your sick little desires on a t-shirt? This is the AFI! Leave the latent cock imagery for the hippies at NYU. What the hell did you do with that twenty I gave you?”

“You expected me to buy—”

“Would it kill you to wear a pair of chinos and a nice oxford?” he interrupts. “It could be a pink oxford if that turns you on.”

“I’m not gay.”

“Not my business and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?”

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Gregory. We wish you much success!

A: Thanks so much for the opportunity! Hope we can do it again someday soon.

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