Welcome to ‘France et Moi’ where this week I am talking to author Karen Burns about what France means to her.
Karen Burns is the author of the Amazon best-seller The Paris Effect (recently optioned for film and TV by Papazian-Hirsch Entertainment), its standalone sequel Paris Ever After, and The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl: Real-life Career Advice You Can Actually Use. Burns has lived and worked in four countries and 22 cities, including Paris. No longer a wanderer, she now resides in the Pacific Northwest, where in addition to novels she writes a weekly career advice column for The Seattle Times. She can be found online here.
1. I think France is a special place and it is famed for many things including its cheese, wine and diverse holiday locations plus, dare I say its strikes and dog poo littered streets. What do you think makes France so very unique and ‘French’?
Karen: To me what is the most special is that the French seem have a gift for enjoying the moment. When you buy a bunch of flowers, they will be beautifully wrapped before being handed to you. Waiters in cafés and restaurants never hurry you through a meal so they can “turn the table.” When you meet friends for a walk or cup of tea, you always get the feeling that they have all the time in the world, that there is nothing else they’d rather be doing than be with you. I’m sure there are exceptions. But that sense that this moment is special, and should be savored, is one of the enormous pleasures of spending time in France.
2. What is your first memory of a trip to France?
Karen: On my first trip to Europe we had to change trains in Paris to go on to St. Malo (intending to return to Paris a few days later). When we arrived I had no idea that this involved getting ourselves from one train station to another. I didn’t even know Paris had more than one train station! We had to figure everything out in a very short amount of time, in the middle of the night, with our very elementary French. It was a challenge, and so much fun.
3. Where did your love of Paris come from?
Karen: That’s a good question. Like my character, Amy, I just always “knew” that one day I had to go to Paris. It seemed like a necessary thing. Her memory of dancing to the song “I Love Paris” as a little girl (this is in The Paris Effect) is actually a memory of my own.
4. Your character Amy in The Paris Effect and Paris Ever After had some issues with food, do you think the French have a different attitude to food than Americans and if so, is it a healthier one?
Karen: It can be dangerous to generalize but I think that when it comes to food the French tend to prize quality over quantity, while Americans too often do the opposite. In my opinion, the French attitude is the healthier one! My mother (who was not French) always said it’s better to have a little of something really good than a lot of something that’s just so-so. I think she was right.
5. Imagine you are sitting outside a French café at 10.00am on a sunny morning watching the world go by, what do you order from the waiter?
Karen: Well, that’s easy. I would order a café crème. When my husband and I stay in Paris we generally have tea and croissants at “home” for breakfast. Then we check our email and read the newspaper. By around ten or eleven when we finally leave the apartment, the first thing we do is sit down for a coffee! We are very lazy in Paris.
6. What is your favourite thing to buy in a Boulangerie/Patisserie?
Karen: Last time we were there we were introduced to the brioche feuilletée. It was lovely and between the two of us we could eat the whole thing (because, while enormous, it was mostly air). But, honestly, I prefer a plain croissant, or a hunk of baguette spread with butter and confiture.
7. France has many different cheeses, a silly question, but which French cheese are you?
Karen: Hmm. How about a morbier? There’s that mysterious thin line of ash running through the center. You can’t see it from the outside. But when you cut it open there it is, waiting for you, ready to tell you a story!
8. Is there anything French you won’t eat?
Karen: For a year or so I taught English one week a month on a French military base. We spent all day with our students, including meals (it was an immersion course). One time lunch was tripes. As the bowl came around the table and I got a whiff of it, I thought, Oh no. The odor was truly awful to me. Keep in mind this was “military-grade” tripes, and in general the food on the base was not great. I was saved when one of my students, noticing the look of horror on my face, leapt up to get me something else from the kitchen. So gallant!
9. What do you think makes French women different to the rest of us and gives them that je ne sais quoi?
Karen: I think perhaps it’s that they don’t try so hard to be beautiful, and the result is that they’re more beautiful. Again, this is a generalization. But they seem to wear less make-up, and simpler outfits, and more natural hairstyles than many North American women do and this forms a large part of their appeal.
10. How does France inspire your writing?
Karen: When I lived in France something surprised me every day. (Mind you, it wasn’t always a good surprise.) But in general I like novelty, and I like to put unexpected things in my writing. To me the whole point of going elsewhere is to get away from sameness, from everything being the way you assume it to be. That’s also a good reason for reading, and writing, novels!
Finally, Paris Ever After is available now, but do you have plans for any more books set in France?
Karen: Well, I have a few ideas. Nothing is concrete yet and I haven’t started actually writing (unless you count notes). It’s in that delicate incubation stage.
Thank you for taking the time to answer some questions about France and you.
Karen: I really enjoyed it, Jacqui. Your blog is one of the very best!
You can read my review of Paris Ever After here and find links to Amazon for both of Karen’s novels set in Paris below.