Joshilyn says: My friend, prolific and bestselling novelist Julianna Baggott (who writes under her own name for poetry and lit fic, Bridget Asher for her women's fic, and N E Bode for a popular
series of YA novels) is blogging with the Tarts today. She's a witty and charming blogger, and even KIRKUS liked her great book:
"Unabashedly romantic and unafraid of melancholy, Asher's book is a real
charmer about a Provencal house that casts spells over the lovelorn."
France is (Demandingly) Romantic
Before I fell in love with France, I fell in love with a Frenchman. This is how it goes down sometimes with the French.
“Every good love story has another love hiding within it.” When I wrote that line in the first draft of my new novel THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED, I knew it was true for my main character, Heidi, and that it is true for me as a novelist. Each of my novels has some version of my own love stories hiding within it. So … this is the love story that made me fall in love with France, return, and, in a second love story, write a novel set there.
I was twenty when I lived in Paris, wearing my leather bolero jacket with its multitude of zippers, heavy on the eyeliner and requisite brooding. I had no spending money and had to take three metros to get student dining which offered unlimited bread. I learned to bulk up on bread. (I actually gained ten pounds in bread alone.) I lived in a house with a host family that didn’t care for guests. My room was at the end of a bent hallway. I was told not to use too much hot water. Their son, Alban, was a twenty-three-year-old who dressed as some kind of mascot for store displays. I never quite figured that out. My French was sketchy.
In fact, I didn’t go to classes much. Why learn French in a classroom when I called learn it everywhere I went. And so my French was mostly learned in the places where I went – namely bars. (My French gets bawdy before I even know it.)
I met said Frenchman in one of these bars. We were crazy about each other. The romance was perfect because he was about to be shipped off for mandatory military service in, get this, Antarctica. It’s true. Better yet, we could only barely understand each other. Communication is key – and a lack of communication can be blissful. We gazed, sad and forlorn. In fact, we felt star-crossed.
Later, I went back to college, surrounded by un-brooding, non-star-crossed American boys, and I’d get the Frenchman’s letters (which only came in a huge bundle once things had thawed – it was pretty seasonal. This was – gasp – pre-Internet). And they were romantic (and dark – people losing appendages due to frostbite and all).
By the time his service was up, I’d graduated. I told my friends that I’d know immediately once I saw him if we were right for each other -- within four minutes.
I did and we weren’t.
But neither were things right with any American boys. I wanted someone who’d gaze but who also understood me -- a fellow-brooder who got my pop culture references. I wanted someone who thought we had the potential to be star-crossed but who was actually right there by my side. And, a few years later, there he was. I married him.
A gajillion years later, we went to France together to do research for THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED – with five kids in tow (our four and a niece).
It was a messy, loud accumulation of a big obnoxious rowdy life we’d built together. I remembered what it was like to be foreign. I ate food and truly tasted it. (This is one damn foodie novel – recipes in the back and all.) I smelled lilac – and it wasn’t scented candles. I looked closely at the small white blooms on the roadside flowers and found they were actually small white snail shells, imprinted with delicate swirls.
And because the foreign world around me had awoken my senses, I got to look at my husband anew too. Once the senses are awake, it’s hard not to see this person you love with fresh eyes. (And, let me add, there’s nothing like living with five kids in an ancient house in a tiny village in the South of France to make you feel star-crossed while under the same roof.)
France allows you to be romantic – in fact, it demands it.
And so the novel swelled all around me. I collected details madly, and when I got home, I wrote madly. The novel is about grief – but how grief is a love story told backwards – and about love – the stories we tell and the real love we come to rely on.
Julianna Baggott is the author of seventeen books, most recently THE PROVENCE CURE FOR THE BROKENHEARTED under her pen name Bridget Asher, as well as THE PRETEND WIFE and MY HUSBAND’S SWEETHEARTS. She’s the bestselling author of GIRL TALK and, as N.E. Bode, THE ANYBODIES TRILOGY for younger readers. Her essays have appeared widely in such publications as The New York Times Modern Love column, Washington Post, NPR.org, and Real Simple. You can visit her blog at https://bridgetasher.blogspot.com/ and her website at www.juliannabaggott.com. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=650103952#!/profile.php?id=650103952