“Thierry,” I said, following the cat into the kitchen through the side door, like always. “We have to talk about Chapter Eight.”

Thierry looked up from where he was doing the dishes and raised an eyebrow. “Hi. We do?”

The cat, frustrated by my obstructing his path to the food dish, butted against my legs and I stepped aside.

“Yeah,” I said, waving my manuscript at Thierry. “Yeah, we do. I mean…you can’t say things like this. You can’t talk about….well, first of all, we can’t say ‘les peaux rouges,’ because that’s not, uh, it’s not acceptable terminology. You can’t call people ‘redskins.’ It’s not okay.”

Thierry shrugged.

“I’m not calling people anything,” he said.

“Yes, you are.” I pointed at the place on the page where I’d underlined pretty much every second line in thick red marker. “Right here, it says-!”

“I’m not,” repeated Thierry firmly, “calling them redskins. It’s a chapter about Jeanot’s mother using food dye on him to make his skin red to look like an Indian. The term applies.”

“We don’t,” I repeated, “call people-!”

“Yes you do.” Thierry shook his head at me. “The Washington football team is called ‘The Redskins.’”

I opened my mouth, realized I wasn’t sure how to respond to that, and shut it again. Then I took a deep breath.

“Thierry,” I insisted, the voice of reason, “the terminology is only part of the problem. The chapter content itself is kind of an issue. I mean, this is super offensive stuff we’re dealing with,  here. Dying your skin a certain color to portray a character of another race or ethnic background is considered absolutely taboo. Have you ever heard of blackface?”

Thierry gave me a disgusted look.

“Yeah okay, so you’ve heard of it,” I went on quickly. “Right, and you know how offensive that is to African American people…or to African people, or, actually, to anyone who has naturally dark skin. You can’t dye your skin a  certain color to make fun of someone.”

“No one is making fun of anyone in this chapter.” Thierry shrugged again. “Jeanot has endless respect for the Indians-!”

“Native Americans,” I muttered, “or at least American Indians, okay?”

“For the Indians,” insisted Thierry. “That is what he would have called them, Indians. He holds them in such high regard that he wants to stay red for the rest of his life. He’s not trying to insult them.”

“That,” I began, “doesn’t make it any better!”

“Why not?” Thierry was watching me now, much calmer and more in control than I was. I was getting frustrated and annoyed and trying not to raise my voice. Why couldn’t he understand that this sort of thing just wasn’t going to work?

“I…I don’t know,” I muttered, shaking my head. “I don’t know, it’s just…”

I waved my hands around a little bit, an expressive gesture meaning that I couldn’t figure out how to express what I was trying to say.

I wanted to explain to him that we were hurting people by writing this stuff, and that by using words and terms and even by showing actions that someone, somewhere had used to marginalize people, we were doing wrong. We were reminding people  of a lack of respect they’d faced and were probably still facing. We were making it obvious how much white privilege we have and how we’re free to use it whenever we want. As a white woman doing my best to be an ally in a world where darker-skinned people get shot down by police for nothing at all, or beaten up on the metro, I was trying to navigate a conversation that I knew was important but that I wasn’t sure how to have.

“Arielle.” Thierry dropped a final dish into the dishwasher, dried his hands on a towel and came to me, getting a little more French as he did so, even in the way he pronounced my name. “The story takes place in France, in the 1950s. This is what happened. Back then, people weren’t interested in being politically correct or sensitive to cultural issues. I remember this play; I remember what it was like to be a peaux rouge.

I glared, but he ignored me.

“This is a true story,” he said. “I’m not going to change the events of history because you’re uncomfortable with how it feels. We cannot retroactively erase racism by simply pretending it never happened and refusing to write about it. That won’t fix anything, crois moi, chérie.” He paused and smiled.  “Now, can you stay for a little while? Would you like something to drink? I bought more orange juice.”

I spent the next few minutes gazing helplessly at Chapter Eight over my glass of juice and doubting my own convictions, for a change.

Books, Finished and Not

There are four finished books. One is L’Amérique. Arielle has been working on it for three months and she and I have essentially rewritten it from page one.  It’s a good book, a better book than it was in May of this year.

There’s Montparnasse, a novel set in Paris between the two great wars and featuring a great cast of artists, writers, composers and other romantics, and one serial killer, Honoré Landru.  That one took me three years to write, and I suspect Arielle will have at it soon.  Soon, that is, if she doesn’t opt instead to edit Lurid Tales, Desperate People,  a pretty lightweight little novel  based on the lives of very blonde women and their families who live in McLean.

Then there’s Dope, a sequel to Thirst, a book published last year that earns me about seven dollars in monthly royalties.

There are three other novels in various stages of undress, or incompletion, including Montmartre, a sequel to Montparnasse, and The Cancer Club, a book a good friend told me he would never read because of its title. I may or may not finish these efforts eventually.  Then there’s what I’m currently writing, and I could not tell you under duress where that’s going, if anywhere. I think it has legs, but I’m not sure. Usually, it takes me about 150 pages to know if there’s a book there, or simply a bunch of random and often uninteresting conjectures.

I think in a lifetime I must have written an avalanche of words, a veritable Amazon River of sentences and paragraphs, thousands upon thousands of pages I felt had a degree of importance. Some got published, most did not; some were read by others who in turn got in touch with me to say (1) it was entertaining; (2) it was somewhat original; and (3) “I have no idea what you’re writing about.”  One reader of Thirst asked for her money back, which I considered somewhat cheeky since she’d gotten a review copy.

I’ve always believed writers carry history on their backs. In 2013, some 305,000 new and revised books were published in the United States alone. In my native France, by comparison, 42,000 books were published in 2011, which is less than Iran but more than Australia. I suspect most  of these books were not widely read, since so few publications are, and I wonder if their authors felt elation at being published and the attendant dejection of being routinely rejected.

Me? I think it’s worth it. I remember dancing in the street—quite literally—when my first book contract came through.

L’ Amérique is finished and looking for a good home.  I’m hoping I’ll dance again soon.


A Most Humble Rebuttal

In a blog posted mere hours ago, Arielle claims I have been dragging my feet regarding finishing the second edit of my book, L’Amérique.

Dragging my feet? Risible.

She also states I have a passably respectable work ethic. I will not dignify this lamentable aspersion with a response because, you see, Arielle does not sleep. She does yawn from time to time (well, pretty often, actually, and she assures me it’s not the company); she stays out late at karaoke and blows out her voice and then says her vocal ills are my fault because she has to yell at me; she spends twenty hours a day online with her 2,287 friends, and otherwise works diligently on one project or another (see below).  Arielle, you see, originated the 32-hour day.

But let us return to her regrettable claim that I am laggard.

Let me explain. Yes, we are mere pages from la fin. The last few scenes we’ve worked on were drafted recently when we projected that the rewrite of the original book would run to fewer than 200 pages.  That’s a novella, not a novel.  So we decided to append the sequel that I have been working on, to the back of the original book. We also had to insert new chapters to fill in gaps, and a lot of the book’s final pages were created very recently. I haven’t had the opportunity to spend a lot of time on these last words.

Arielle has edited this book in a bit more than three months. It took me almost a decade to write it. She is a fast-moving creature by nature, albeit a careful one, most of the time.  I am a cautious being who watches my step and three times looks both ways before I cross a one-way street—be it literal or fictive.  Think older turtle, younger hare. Arielle has approximately 212 projects going on simultaneously, of which our book is merely one, even if, I am told, it is a very important one.  I have three projects, maybe four, and two of those are dormant.

Here is another thing that happened. Upon rereading the book in its entirety, I got pretty emotional. In fact, I broke down in tears a couple of times when I realized that, in the end, what I thought I had written was not at all what was on the page. I had wanted to chronicle the happy story of a little kid in Paris whose family decides to move to America.  What is really there, after the rewrite, are the memoires of a child desperately trying to hold his family together in a brand new country, the language of which he doesn’t speak.

Am I going to be careful before finishing this thing? Damned straight. This is probably the most important writing I’ve authored.

Where Arielle is completely right is in illustrating the difference between writing and theatre. I would add that the plays her company produces take four or five months from inception to last curtain call, and this is accomplished with a whole bunch of people pitching in. Britches and Hose presents four plays a year, and hosts a one-act-plays presentation as well. If I’m lucky, in a three-month period, I will write a finished 100 pages of prose.  I’ll sell a few free-lance articles and see a couple of my short stories published.

Arielle says, “There will always be another play/another book/another artistic endeavor.”

Honestly, the only thing I can say with any degree of certainty is that it’s unlikely I will ever again write a book this personal. So yes, I’m going to take my time. I will drag feet and elbows and knees and whatever appendage is necessary to make sure we do this totally right.

And as a last word, let me say Arielle is a truly phenomenal editor, the best with whom it has been my privilege to be associated. I love working with her.  That’s never been in question.

Plus, she almost never drags her feet.

Collaboration and the Last Ten Pages

We are still not quite finished with the book. In fact, there are exactly ten pages left before we complete the second edit.

Thierry is dragging his feet, which is unusual for him. He’s got what I consider to be a passably respectable work ethic, which means that he works slightly more than 200 percent of the time. In this case, it’s not that he’s not willing to put the work in, it’s just that he’s reticent to finish the book. He tells me that when it’s over, he’ll have lost something; there will be something we can’t get back.

On one hand, I understand that. On the other hand, I’m very used to it. I think that’s one of the real, significant differences between theater people and writing people; in the theater, everything is always over, and over quickly. We spend months perfecting a show, we perform three times, maybe six, and then it’s gone forever, with no finished product left behind for us to nostalgize over in the future (Thierry challenged me, this morning, to make up a word, so there it is.)

Yeah, that can be a sad, stressful experience. I once wrote a story about it, and the story was actually published, which for me is rare and lovely. The point, though, is that my experiences in theater have sort of hardened my heart to what happens at “the end.” It’s gonna be over, so let it be over. There will always be another play/another book/another artistic endeavor, assuming we keep to the passably respectable work schedule.

A few weeks ago, I posted back-to-back excerpts for you from the beginning of the book. I showed you the old version of the chapter, and then the new, updated version.

Today I’d like to post a very brief excerpt that appears towards end of the book. This is one that Thierry and I essentially wrote together; it’s new content that didn’t exist in the original version of the novel.

I waffled a bit about which excerpt to post. Part of me wanted to show you the big, climactic moment at the end of Chapter 37, but that would spoil things a little too much, don’t you think? You’ll just have to read the novel if you want the best stuff.

Instead, here’s a scary story for your Sunday morning. Our protagonist has just moved into a new house, and he has invited his two best friends to play.


KC and Robert came over often and had sleepovers. Jeanot’s room was large enough that they could all sleep on the floor on rubber air mattresses, and they stayed up with flashlights, telling each other scary stories. KC had the best ones, almost always involving a strong and lovely girl surrounded by boorish boys. The girl would be rescued by ghosts summoned from the nether worlds, mean ghosts who took no pity on the wailings of their boy victims.

“The ghosts have claws,” KC said. “They rip your throat and your stomach, and leave the guts behind.”

Jeanot and Robert looked at each other.

After a moment’s thought, KC added, “Actually, they rip out the stomachs first and leave the intestines all over the place, so that they can still hear their victims screaming before the throats come out. Then, the ghosts eat the boys’ hearts.”

Jeanot asked, “Do ghosts eat hearts?”

Robert nodded. “In Indonesia, they have ghosts in the jungle. They look like large brown monkeys.”

Jeanot thought KC’s gut-ripping ghosts were a lot more interesting than Robert’s ghost monkeys, but he didn’t say so.

Not to be outdone, Jeanot said, “In Paris, the ghosts are called fan-“

“I wasn’t finished,” interrupted KC, glaring. Her face looked even more beautifully terrible in the dim flashlight glow.

Jeanot sighed and subsided.

KC continued. “Then the ghosts draped the boys’ guts over the trees in their backyard, and wild dogs came and ate them.” Smiling, she stopped and looked at Jeanot and Robert, who were now both staring, completely aghast. “And those trees,” she hissed, “were the exact same trees in YOUR BACKYARD, JEANOT!”

Robert squeaked.

“Fuck,” exhaled Jeanot.

KC raised an eyebrow at him. “You kiss your Maman with that mouth?”


Note: KC is my favorite character.


I say I have finished writing a book. Arielle says I have not. This may be a semantic or philosophical issue. This very morning around four a.m. , I typed the last words of my novel, L’Amérique, an opus that has now been rewritten about 120 times, which is only a slight exaggeration.
About three months ago, after an exchange of emails with my agent, Arielle and I agreed that the book’s point of view should shift from omniscient to that of the main character, a 10-year-old Parisian boy whose family decides to move to America. She signed on to edit the thing. She had read another book of mine, Thirst, and liked it. I, in turn, had read a few pieces she’d written and enjoyed her style. Additionally, Arielle, an English major at Bryn Mawr, knows grammar, sentence structure, and how to use a semi-colon, among many other useful things like the definition of the pluperfect and conditional tenses.
What happened was this: Arielle started chopping at the book with a bit too much glee, I thought. The word chainsaw made quite a few appearances in her conversations and in the blogs we’ve been publishing on We trimmed more than a hundred pages because the events described could not have been known or related by our young hero. We deleted fifty pages alone that described the boy’s parents before they met and had a child together. A duel held in a Parisian courtyard was taken out. We grafted the book’s sequel I’d begun writing onto the back of L’Amérique. It was tough. Some of my best-written scenes were excised, though I’m confident they’ll resurface in another book. I had to write a lot of new material, and Arielle, it turns out, has a wonderful way of duplicating my style.
We didn’t agree at first, and we still tussle from time to time on the exact meaning of a word. She’s usually right. I have a tendency to ascribe French meanings to American terms. She also detests sentence fragments with the sort of fervor usually found among rabid fans attending sporting events involving a much reviled opponent.
This being said, we work wonderfully well together. We spent the better part of the afternoon reading the book’s first four chapters aloud to each other. At one point, Arielle stopped and said, “I wrote that entire section.” I gaped. I wouldn’t have been able to recognize the section as not my own if she hadn’t told me.
The fact of the matter is, it’s now a much better book. It reads smoothly. Chapters segue seamlessly, and the pacing is excellent. There’s still some work to be done. Inserts will be inserted, and it’s possible the end comes a bit too abruptly so I may still have to add a page or three.
We’ll be going to see my agent in a couple of weeks. I think he’ll like it; we did what he suggested, and then some.
Frankly, I think we have a winner.

Crunch Time


It is absolutely freezing in Thierry’s basement, where our computers and workstations are. I got tired of shivers and goosebumps, so I took his laptop out to the backyard to finish my work on Chapter 37.

Chapter 37 is the very last chapter of the book. We’re almost done.

Well, no, that’s not precisely true. We’re almost done with the first draft. Now that I’ve completed my first edit of each chapter of the book, we need to go back through the entire book, chapter by chapter, and to check for consistency errors; things in chapter one that no longer make sense based on edits we made in chapter 14, etc etc. I have this sinking feeling that the type of car the protagonist owns changes at least once per chapter. Also, I think there is one character who has three different first names.

This mosquito will not stop biting me. I am trying not to think about the zika virus, which my brother Daniel assures me is something that I should absolutely be thinking and worrying about. Maybe I should get some bug spray…

Chapter 36, which I finished about twenty minutes ago, took place in a hospital. Like Nabokov (my favorite author, for anyone who doesn’t know, which is probably all of you except Leandra) Thierry has a tendency to get it right; his scenes are visceral. The sights, sounds, even the smells that he describes really bring you into the scene…and I hate hospitals. I hate them, and I always have. I’m pretty sure that neither he nor I had a ton of fun with Chapter 36, but it’s a good chapter; well executed. I give it my editorial stamp of almost-full-approval.

There were a few sentence fragments that I had to fix, and the man continually insists on using commas when a semicolon is more appropriate…but I digress.

In one week, I go back to work full time at the College Board, meaning that I will no longer be available to edit during the day, as I have been for the past few weeks. On August 13, Thierry and I go to New York to pitch the book to his agent, Philip Spitzer, and so it would be great (read: absolutely mandatory) if the rewrite were completely finished by then.

Something in Thierry’s pond is making some sort of “wheeeeeee” noise, and I’m certain it’s not the goldfish. I am intrigued, and a little unfocused.

I have been coming down with a cold for a few days, and I’m not feeling at my absolute best, but it’s crunch time and we need to finish this book by Sunday at the very latest. I am NOT going to get seriously sick right now, and if I do I’m certainly not going to admit it to myself. Tomorrow we’re going to take a field trip with a printed copy of each chapter. He’s going to read it aloud while I edit on the laptop. I may try reading some of it aloud myself, tonight, after my meeting. Who needs sleep?

Oh no, one of the fish is floating in the pond…it’s a dead fish. That’s so sad, we just bought those! Poor fish. Eek, something is tickling me, there’s an ant on my foot!

…okay, this isn’t working. I’d better go back inside or we’re never going to get anything done.

I leave you with this; the last paragraph of chapter 37 (the final chapter) is absolutely brilliant.

The beginning may need work. Excuse me. I have things to do.




Hamster Muses

One of our two new little friends. The other one is too camera shy.

We barely got any work done, today, and it’s my (Arielle’s) fault.

We were supposed to be working on Chapter 34 (which I’m in the process of totally rewriting) and Chapter 35 (from which I will soon be removing all sentence fragments and run-on sentences). I started work on Chapter 34 yesterday, and Thierry sent me his updated version of Chapter 35 this morning (while I was asleep, causing the little notification on my phone to go “ping,” which doesn’t really seem fair, now, does it?) This should have been an easy work day. We should have completed all the things on my to-do list in record time and moved on with our literary lives.

We didn’t.

See, yesterday, after finishing a couple of chapters, we both needed a break from our computer screens. We stepped out for a few minutes and went over to the Petco to buy some new fish for Thierry’s pond, as several of the fish had tragically passed away in the middle of the previous night.

I’m a small animal kind of girl, and every time I go to the pet store, I rush immediately over to look at the little hamsters and the guinea pigs (of which I own two already) and the rats and bunnies.

After gazing at the guinea pigs for a few minutes, I turned around to find Thierry with his eyes glued to the Roborovski hamster cage. You have never seen a man with such a dazzling, genuinely delighted smile on his face as Thierry had while watching those funny little hamsters.Those of you who read his blog will be aware that smiles have been few and far between, lately.


The course of action here was clear, to me at least.

“Thierry,” I said, “let’s get those hamsters.”

He was shocked. He was alarmed. He utilized his famous gallic shrug, protested that it was not a good idea to make such split second decisions, that bringing a new life (two new lives!) into his home was a big responsibility that he was not necessarily ready to accept, that the cat might object, etc, etc.

I insisted. He eventually suggested that we wait until the following day, and that we then make a more rational, potentially further informed decision.

I knew I had won.

Just to make sure, I texted him last night with adorable hamster photos, so that he wouldn’t, you know, forget how much he really wanted them.

Today, we went and bought the hamsters. Well, actually, no; we went to the store, bought a hamster mansion (this thing is huge!) and I sat on the floor and provided essentially useless but well-meant encouragement while he put the thing together. We then checked several different stores to find exactly the RIGHT pair of robos, and we are now sitting at our desks in his basement, preparing to complete our work on today’s chapters while the little hamsters run frantically around in their cage on the dresser beside me.

Thierry communing with the hamsters. He’s actually been sitting there for the last ten minutes, I kid you not at all.

There is only one remaining problem, really; our hamsters/tiny little literary muses don’t have names!

I have to get some work done. While I’m plowing through chapter 36, can you help us name them? Please either leave a response to this post or leave a post on either of our facebok walls to make hamster name suggestions.

Note: They are both boys.

Jeanot and the Leopards

As many of you know, Arielle and I have been rewriting one of my books,  L’Amérique. The work deals with a French family’s decision to move to the United States in the mid-50s. Here is a brief excerpt.

Jeanot had found his life’s calling in the latest Tintin magazine. Like Albert Schweitzer, Jeanot was going to go to Africa to cure the leopards. The illness sounded dreadful and it was not fair that the sick leopards weren’t allowed to mix with others of their kinds. There was a picture in the magazine of Schweitzer wearing an explorer hat and looking both kindly and sad, with skinny natives surrounding him, hired help, Jeanot figured, to catch the leopards. The sky was cloudless, it looked warm, and the black people were obviously friendly if very, very thin. Maybe working with leopards had its difficulties.schweitzer

Jeanot had met a few black people in Paris. They were always pleasant with their strange accents and startling white eyes, and they looked nothing like the ones in the photo with Dr. Schweitzer. Obviously coming to France from Africa was a beneficial experience—maybe it was the weather, Jeanot thought, or the air in Africa was somehow different. Certainly the air in Benodet near the sea had little in common with the sooty-smelling stuff in Paris, and Jeanot noticed that whenever he left town for a day or two, the bothersome scratch at the back of his throat vanished. Maybe the air in Africa was worse, which would explain why the people helping Schweitzer with the leopards all looked skinny and ill.

Jeanot told his father about the leopards. “Look, Papa!” He opened the Tintin to the center pages and pointed to a photo. “I want to work with the leopards too, just like Doctor Schwe—“ He had a hard time pronouncing the string of consonants.

Papa said, “Schweitzer,” and then laughed so hard he made choking sounds. He swept up his son and carried him to Maman, where he told him to repeat the story. Jeanot did so with a little less confidence.

“I want to be like Doctor Schweitzer,” he pronounced the name right this time.

Papa was still smiling. Jeanot shot him an arch look. “Why are you laughing? There are very sick leopards in Africa!” He didn’t think ailing leopards was a funny subject at all, and when Maman tried to explain the leopards were fine, it was the people—lepers—that the good Dr. Schweitzer tried to heal, Jeanot was certain his mother was wrong—the people didn’t have spots on them and looked fit if a little thin—but he chose not to argue the point. He did, though, ask about the African air. Both his parents had been in North Africa during the war. “Do you think people breathe differently in Africa? Is the air bad there?”

Papa, who’d contracted malaria while serving with the Free French in Algeria, thought about it for a moment. “I think, maybe yes, Jeanot. I think there are little animals and bugs there that we don’t have here.”

“And we breathe them in?”

“Yes. Or maybe you eat without washing your hands, or the little bugs get into a cut…”

“Really?” Jeanot always had some sort of scrape or cut and he wasn’t that good about handwashing. After the leopard discussion, he went to the bathroom and scrubbed himself pink, including under the fingernails. No African bugs were going to get him.

Orlando Reade and the Skyfaring Romance: A Fanfiction

Today, we put work aside and just had fun. 


As thankfully very few people know, I (it’s Arielle, I usually do the website updates) am currently writing a young adult Steampunk novel featuring a pirate protagonist named Horatio Reade. My work almost NEVER sees the light of day, and I don’t think I’ve even ever submitted it to a critique group or anything of that kind, but Thierry’s obviously read it.

Today, he decided to amuse both of us by writing a delightful little piece of “Horatio Reade fanfiction,” featuring one of the novel’s minor characters, Orlando. Orlando, an author, is the older sister of Horatio, an airship pilot, recently hired by a pirate fleet. I think that’s probably all the context you’ll need for this bit.

This is such fun that I want to share it with you.

Thanks, Thierry!


It was the rejection slip from Bad Bladder Books that pushed Orlando Reade over the edge. The letter, received that very morning among a rush of bills, petitions, and advertisements, read in part:

Dear Miss Reade;

First, congratulations on being named after a vibrant American city. Your parents must be very wise persons and we assume you are a citizen proud of her heritage.

I am afraid your most recent submission, Love Among the Moving Spines, simply does not meet our current needs. As you may know, Bad Bladder Books specializes in cisgender skyfaring  adventure romances.  Your book appears to deal largely with the relationship between a celebrated stage director, a hedgehog and a number of guinea pigs.  While our staff thought your dialogue among and between the human and non-human characters was brilliant, they also found the plot was somewhat lacking. The three-page-long and rather graphic description of a Frenchman eating “escargots,” which we believe to mean “snails,”, and the attendant monologue of the stage director on the evils of avocados confused our reader.  

Please feel free to send future works directly to the person we have selected to review your submissions, Mr. Roger Furshiliginer, Assistant Editor to the Contributing Associate Editor in Charge of Unsolicited Manuscripts.   Mr. F, as we call him, will review your work with utmost care…

Orlando sighed, dropped the letter in the bulging They Don’t Like Me file, then sighed again, this time even more meaningfully. She had now been writing for three years without success, save for a small piece in the now-defunct Bug Hater Journal. Even Orlando’s older sister, Brutus, who could hardly tell one end of a pencil from another, had been published recently—an insipid piece on the danger of a clockwork revolution in the Outer Maldibre Islands—in a somewhat popular current-affairs journal.


A notion tickled her cerebral cortex and grew. The idea germinated like a seed on fertile ground. Seafaring? They wanted skyfaring  romances? Well, she had Horatio, didn’t she! Her sister, Horatio, she of the adventurous spirit! Horatio who had served as a cabin girl and, in her latest letter, had mentioned a mysterious man, a Mr.—what? Noggin? Coggle? Snuggle?  No, no. But Horatio had used the word romance, Orlando was sure of it!

Admittedly, the two sisters had not seen each other in a number of years and kept in touch at best haphazardly. Orlando had a momentary misgiving. Could she write about Horatio? Was that allowed? Hmpf. She shrugged off the concern. She found the Letters From People and Family Members Who Rarely Write, Shame on Them  file folder, and dumped the contents on her desk.  Here was a postcard from Leander; a brief note from Brutus attached to her clockwork piece; a reminder that her furnace was due for a cleaning—what was that doing there? She dropped it into the Things that Need Cleaning file. Ah, there it was, the latest news from Horatio, dated a few months earlier.

Orlando found the mystery man’s name, Aaron Scroggs. She scanned the rest of the letter quickly and focused on the sentence she wanted, written in Horatio’s scratchy cursive hand: “I have been invited aboard a first-class pirate vessel in its prime. This is a deliciously romantic prospect…”

Aaron Scroggs would never do as the name for a romantic character. She would figure out a clever anagram, and possibly strand the two lovers on an island populated by pirates and cannibals…and man- eating goldfish, and perhaps even giant , ferocious shrimp, too.   

Orlando sighed, this time contentedly, and inserted a blank sheet of paper into the ancient Royal typewriter’s platen.

The end (for now)



Work in Progress: L’Amerique, Chapter 7

The following passage is an example of some of the work that we’ve been doing on Thierry Sagnier’s upcoming bestseller, L’Amerique. 


We’re re-writing the entire novel from the point of view of ten-year-old Jeanot. Here are some before and after shots of the chapter:

Original Passage:

Marité was a painter. She’d dabbled in other media, had written and published a well-selling children’s book, and played both the piano and accordion passably. Ever since the end of the war and her return to Paris with Roland, she had been sketching scenes, largely from old family photographs. She wanted the time to paint a dozen or so oils before she and Roland opened Créations St. Paul, the dressmaking shop made possible by a reluctant loan from Léopold.

Her true skill was oil on canvas in a style a writer for Les Beaux Arts de Paris had called neo-naïf. She painted scenes from the Belle Époque; extended and inbred bourgeois families posing at relaxed attention in pastel dresses and suits before country home porticoes, or sitting by azure lakes drinking champagne from crystal flutes and eating pâté on toasted squares of brioche. She painted society weddings with uniformed Swiss Guards bearing ceremonial halberds, street scenes of unrivaled innocence, and horse-drawn carriages with smiling drivers. The grayness of daily life never intruded in her works. Soldiers went unwounded, horses never dropped steaming piles of dung, aging dowagers retained their youths, and street urchins’ cheeks radiated health and well-being.

She painted without perspective—humans rarely varied in height and sometimes were outsize standing next to their horses, or small when with their dogs. Jeanot concluded that in the Old Days most people were short and owned ponies and Great Danes. When he asked Marité about that at the dining table one night, she got mad but his father laughed so hard red wine came out of his nose.

Edited Passage:

Maman was a painter. She’d dabbled in other media, had written and published a children’s book, and played both the piano and accordion.Jeanot maintained a small resentment when it came to the book, since it had been written specifically about and for his two sisters. He was waiting for his Maman to announce that there was another book written, one dealing with the adventures of Jeanot. He had been waiting a couple of years and come to the conclusion that writing a book might be very time consuming.

Maman’s paintings were drawn largely from old family photographs. She wanted to paint a dozen or so oils before she and Papa opened Créations St. Paul, the dressmaking shop made possible by a loan from Grand-père.

She painted colorful, confusing scenes; people in wedding clothes, surrounded by beaming armed Swiss guards. Jeanot had asked why guards were needed at weddings, and had gotten back a nonsensical, unsatisfactory answer that involved the Pope. Maman’s paintings reminded him of the contes de fees that Jeanot knew he should have outgrown years ago; there were flowers in full bloom and beautiful if slightly too-small horses, who never pooped, pulling carriages of happy people. Everything Maman painted, in fact, was happy. There were never any old people, never anyone who was sick or injured. The soldiers never bled, or fought, which was jarring, though not really unpleasant. Maman told Jeanot that the style in which she painted was called neo-naif

He had noted early that her people varied in height and sometimes were outsize standing next to their horses, or small when with their dogs. Jeanot concluded that in the Old Days most people were short and owned ponies and Great Danes. When he asked Maman about that at the dining table one night, she got mad but his father laughed so hard red wine came out of his nose.