Though I was born in Chicago and have spent most of my adulthood in Seattle, I’ve always felt more European than American. There’s nothing really wrong with America, it is the land of hopes and dreams and opportunity. America’s resourcefulness and belief in a better tomorrow is ingrained in me. The open friendliness of America is in me too. But in a country that looks to the future, we don’t often value the past. And I’m big into the past. The past is like a dream to me. It draws me in whether it’s a book about a historical era or an antique chair. It’s romantic and ethereal to me. Even the dark parts. The past is filled with stories of all kinds and perhaps that’s why I like it. I like stories.
Europe is also full of the past. Its history is everywhere, in the streets, in the buildings, the statues, even the rivers and canals. The architecture is ancient. Tradition is important. Because of the tiered school system, fewer people believe they can grow up to be whoever they want to be. But with this way of life comes reassurance. There is less pressure to succeed on a grand scale. Of course, Europeans are also forward-thinking and ambitious. Many people create new ideas, new art, new science every day. The culture changes with the times. Immigrants are drawn to it. And some cities are very modern, but most, simply because Europe is the birth of ancient Western civilization, have an old look and feel America can’t match. I love that historic look and feel.
Historical Fiction Versus Contemporary
So why don’t I write historical fiction set in Europe? I’ve asked myself that often. Two of my favorite novels are Henry James’s The American and Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. I love Austen, George Eliot, Charles Dickens. But those authors recorded their times, just as I’m interested in my time. I may change my mind later but I actually like the Europe of today. I have friends who live there. It’s a dynamic mix of old and new.
Paris Calls to Me
I had the opportunity to work in Paris during the summer of 2000. I worked in a suburban office with French people. I’d always loved the French language but my love for the country deepened with that experience. I learned how similar we are and how different. It was formative for me. Later, when I wrote my first novel, I set it in Paris. It felt right. I thought, “Well, I’m going to satisfy myself. I’m going to immerse myself in a story in a place that I want to dream constantly about. A place I always want to always be.” I wrote that book, then rewrote it from scratch in graduate school, and then revised it a hundred times. The constant in all of it was Paris. I never got rid of that setting. I couldn’t. I love the city too much.
The Parisian Soul
My husband and I talk about moving to Paris. That won’t be a reality with his American job and our kids still in school. But since working in Paris and having visited several times, the soul of that city is in me. It’s about appreciating the experience of life: art, food, history, culture, travel. Once, I was a Parisian local surrounded by people who valued those things more than anything. Notice I didn’t mention work and a career. Yes, people in Paris want careers but they don’t believe your career should consume you. The stereotype of them knowing how to enjoy life is true. Someday I may move there, another immigrant seeking a better life. Until then, I’ll visit in my mind by writing stories set in Paris.
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