October 26, 2006

3 Questions: Laura Florand

My friend Jill, in an e-mail she group sent to MOST of our mutual friends, tried to say that this woman she had met was smart and funny. But she suffered a few typos. What she actually ended up telling us was that her new friend was “fart and sunny.” She swears to this day that alcoholic beverages were not involved. If it were ME, I would claim a three martini lunch immediately, because I think drinking multiple cocktails is LESS shameful than making multiple typos as long as you don’t drive when you do either. Also, if I drank HALF as often as I typo’d, my liver would be scrabbling up my spine and trying to escape via the closest nostril…

I bring up fart sunniness because I think Laura Florand is Fart and Sunny, and I flipped for her book. I read it in galley form and said absolutely sincere nice things about it for the cover, so I will quote me here, because I am right:

“Laura Florand offers up an outsider’s oddly inside view of Paris, and she does so in a narrative that is by turns witty and touching, but always charming. Best of all, she turns the tables and lets us see our own culture through the fresh, French eyes of the man she loves. Do yourself a favor: Read this book.”

And to that endorsement I add: ALSO read this interview. She had me giggling like a loon.

JJ: What’s the deal with BLAME IT ON PARIS?
You say it’s a true story, but your publishing house calls it a novel. Don’t you know the difference?

LF: I do not know why this happens to me. Whenever I tell any event from my life to anyone, there’s always a moment when my auditor is dying laughing at my tragedies, rolling on the floor, and I’m protesting: “No, really, I’m not making this up! And it’s not funny!” This also happened with my agent and my editor. I kept talking about my elegant, thought-provoking memoir, and they kept talking about my crazy, comic novel. Finally, I just gave up.

We had actually signed the contract, and I was very excited, because it’s my first book, and my new editor called, our first conversation, to talk to me about my novel.


I about jumped a foot. My heart sank right down to the toes my dog was currently licking. “Novel?” I said. “What novel? You mean my thought-provoking memoir? The, uh, memoir I’m supposed to be getting an advance for any old day now?”
“Memoir?” she said. “You mean it’s true?” And then, “That man who answered the phone—was that him? Sébastien? He’s real?”

If you ask me, the only reason my editor keeps putting up with me is for the excuses to meet Sébastien. If she wasn’t happily married, I would be very suspicious.

JJ: It reads like a memoir to me---a really FART, SUNNY memoir that has the kind of narrative flow you would like in a novel. And as history has taught us, better to call a memoir a novel than call a novel a memoir…BUT back to the interview. A lot of writers read this blog----how did you
a) Find an agent

Your basic. I researched agents and what they were representing, made a short list of the ones that interested me, researched what they liked to see in a proposal (most agents post this on their websites, and writing magazines often have interviews with agents), then sent them a proposal per their specifications. People always seem to think finding an agent is an arcane secret or a great magic trick. It isn’t. Agents are very open about what they want and how they want it. It’s writing the book that’s the trick. If it’s sellable, there’s someone somewhere who wants to sell it, and you just have to persevere until you find him.

b) sell that first book
I actually went through two agents with BLAME IT ON PARIS, both of whom worked with me a lot, recommending rewrites. My first agent referred me on to Kimberley Cameron when we both realized that, much as I liked him and as good as he was, we just had different visions of what the book should be. Kimberley Cameron was very enthusiastic about the book right from the first, asked for minor rewrites, and then started contacting editors. And, voilà…

c) come to realize you wanted to pursue writing as a career instead of a personal passion or a hobby.
When I was nine years old, we were assigned a short story for a class. I and my best friend and bitter rival for “smartest girl in class” kept calling each other all evening to report how long ours were. Hers kept getting longer than mine, which was a problem, because I’d had the big dénouement at page 4. She kept calling back, and I kept having to try to tack on something to keep it going. She won. Hers was 12 pages and mine was only 9. Not to mention that hers made sense. I have never gotten over it and blame it on her big handwriting.

I have been writing pretty much daily since then. Since all the writing magazines I began reading at nine said you had to submit, submit, submit, I have also been submitting my stories and poems to major magazines (Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, New Yorker) since I was nine years old. I can only imagine what those editors must have thought. I have a notebook with pages and pages filled with name of story/poem, date of submission, market, date of reply. They also have columns for “Amount Paid” and “Payment Received” that are, strangely, all blank.

I didn’t actually get any positive feedback until age 16, when I won a poetry contest and $50 for what is truly the most awesome villanelle in the world, second only to Dylan Thomas’s. However, it is so sappy I won’t share it. I also wrote three or four books during my teenage years, or, as editors put it, “what I called books at the time.” I actually wrote a “book” that was the story of an Eve (yes, that Eve) who participated in most major events throughout history AND pre-history. I think it was about 80 pages long. I still had that length problem, as you see. Fortunately for my reputation, these and other endeavors were all on floppy discs that worked only on an Apple IIC, and they have been lost to posterity.

The moral of this story is: when people tell you to back up all your work and make hard copies, don’t necessarily listen. Use your own best judgment.

JJ: How important is location to you as a writer, or, a better way to say that might be, could these books be set anywhere else?

LF: If you take away location, I don’t have a book. In BLAME IT ON PARIS, for example, the crazy disjunction between Paris/Parisians and small town Georgia/ Georgians is the reason I had to write the book in the first place. And location is just as crucial to the book I just finished and to the books I’m working on now. None of them could possibly take place anywhere else.

What’s interesting is that back in the before-mentioned halcyon days of my writing career, from age nine on up until my early twenties, my oeuvres had no sense of location whatsoever. And neither did I, really. It wasn’t until after I left home and thus my native land for the first time that location became not-so-coincidentally one of the most vital aspects of my work. That’s also the moment when people (editors, agents, with any luck the general public) actually became interested in reading my work, which might say something about the importance of location in literature.

But then again, that turning point might have something to do with advice my grandfather gave me, which was one of the things that inspired my finally leaving my hometown. He said, “Maybe you should go live your life first, then you can write about it.” And it was when I let writing take a back burner and started spending much more time living than writing that what I was writing began to interest people. Which makes sense, when you think about it. Grandfathers can be pretty smart.

Posted by joshilyn at October 26, 2006 1:23 PM

Thank you, Joshilyn! You're a sweetheart. And you are even Farter and Sunnier. Plus, I just love that your book is being photographed in Denmark, and I think you should recruit your hordes of international fans to add to your collection until you have photographs of it all around the world, like Raphael Poulain's nain du jardin.

Also, you did not look at all sick on your interview, you looked great, as did the close-up of your shoes, as did Ellen and Karen. That is hilarious that they did a close-up of your shoes. If that had happened to me, it would be the day I had a big splotch of mud on them.

Thanks for having me on your blog!


Posted by: Laura Florand at October 26, 2006 4:27 PM

Looking forward to reading LF's memoir turned novel by her publisher. Love that.

Thanks, Joss. Are you all better now?

Posted by: Edgy Mama at October 27, 2006 10:06 AM