Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Writer in Paris

As a writer living in Paris, I’m often asked if I meet with other authors. After all, the city is famous for its salons and literary connections. When people think of Paris, they often think of writers seeking inspiration, languorous lunches and watching the world go by in cafés. Once a week, a writer friend and I visit over coffee then work on our own projects in a cozy cafe.

“But do you meet with lots of other writers like Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald used to?” people ask.

Sadly, no. Although a few writers and I meet to have lunch once or twice a year, we’re all busy with work and family, plotting out our next novels and promoting our currents ones. We’re also scattered all over the city and over the globe. As I wait in line at the grocery store or post office and spend too much time filling out never-ending French paperwork, I feel a little jealous of the Lost Generation, known for their salons and discussion about writing. Then friend and fellow expat writer Ann Mah, author of Kitchen Chinese, reminded me that there is a place where writers meet – the Internet.

Writers have created their own havens online. From the Stiletto Gang to What Women Write to Writer Unboxed, writers gather to share and to read each other’s work. Bestselling authors such as Jennifer Weiner and Harlan Coben exchange messages with friends and fans on Twitter. Through email, authors are able to collaborate on projects. Isn’t it amazing that the writing duo that makes up Evelyn David have never met in person? They didn’t even speak on the phone until they finished their first draft.

Ann was right. I began to look at the Internet the same way my main character did – with awe and appreciation. In my novel, Moonlight in Odessa, Daria lives in Ukraine. The Iron Curtain has come down and she longs to connect to the outside world through the Internet. She has a computer at work, but her boss finds a way to cut her cord to the outside world. Finally, she reaches her goal:

“I finally got the Internet! The technician showed me how to fly from page to page and to navigate the sites. I could see why the Internet started with a capital letter, like a country or a city. It was a whole new galaxy, like the Milky Way. I could read the BBC news, see the latest fashions in Paris, and read Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry. I could search for a new job on Western employment sites. I could plan my escape.”

Sometimes we need a reminder of how lucky we are. My character Daria reminded me it’s important to not take things for granted. Ann reminded me that although we can’t always meet physically, we are able to connect. I have interviewed several authors via email and shared their stories on my blog. Through my website, readers have sent lovely emails about Moonlight in Odessa. Twitter feels like my own personal newspaper. I love reading the blogs of agents and other authors to see what they are passionate about. Several bloggers have kindly done author interviews and reviewed my book. As book sections of newspapers get smaller and smaller, the Internet allows more and more writers to be heard.

The Internet is where it is at, a reunion café open 24/7 where all are welcome.

Many thanks to the writers and the Stiletto Gang for inviting me to share my thoughts!

Janet Skeslien Charles

Buy Moonlight in Odessa at Amazon!


  1. Thanks for visiting us, Janet! Your book sounds great!
    --Susan McBride

  2. Interesting post! I do think regardless of whether or not we live in Paris, most people tend to picture writers as having plenty of time for lunching and lounging around with artistic, avante garde types. Sadly, no. When I'm cranking on a project, I barely have time to do my own laundry and I absolutely rely on the internet to keep me connected! I think in order to get the Hemingway lifestyle we'd all need Hemingway money and a secretary. :P

  3. Many thanks for your kind words, Bethany. I agree with you about the perceptions of the writing life.

    Hello, Susan, I have heard such wonderful things about you and your book!!