Thursday, May 30, 2013

"French Women" Author Jamie Cat Callan Shares Her Secrets to Creating Art

Author and purveyor of the secrets of French women, Jamie Cat Callan, has done it again. The author of Bonjour,Happiness! and French Women Don’t Sleep Alone has a new tome on the secrets of French women: Ooh La La! French Women's Secrets to Feeling Beautiful Every Day. Today, Jamie shares her writing sec
By Jamie Cat Callan
rets with us, starting as a young girl dreaming of Paris.

AMA: Thinking back on those late afternoons when you admired the Moulin Rouge print that hung on the wall of your grandmother’s home, what did you imagine as you gazed at the picture?

JCC: Summers at my French grandmother's house, in Connecticut, were always a bit dreamy. I took afternoon naps in her living room. And so, when I fell asleep on the couch staring at the picture of the Moulin Rouge, I imagined a life that was very glamorous. The Guy Dessapt print is from the Belle Epoch era, where ladies wore long dresses and really big hats. Even the men wore big hats. I imagined that France was a place that was lost in time and that if I were to go there, I would actually time-travel. You know, I think this is the very idea that Woody Allen captured in his film "Midnight in Paris." I do believe we all have this feeling that when we go to Paris, we will reconnect with a bygone era. Of course, when I finally arrived in France as a teenager in the 1970s, I found a very different place than what I imagined. But still, I believe there is a connection to our collective past that is still very much there–in the outdoor markets, the delicious smell of perfume, the fashionable people on the streets and the tradition of café life. I believe Hemingway's ghost still walks Rue Monge.

AMA: What is it about your French background that most impacts your writing and creativity?

JCC: This may surprise you, but I believe it's my French background that makes me a very practical artist. My family was never very wealthy, but they lived a rich life. During the Depression, my grandmother sewed all my mother's dresses for her to wear to school. She cooked the most wonderful meals, with very few resources. My grandfather had a big garden in the summer and a cold bin for vegetables in the winter. My grandmother made use of what was available, but whatever she did, it was done with a sense of art and beauty. I began my writing career as a poet, and then I went on to write three young adult books in the 1980s (Over the Hill at Fourtee
Author and teacher, Callan
my most successful book, sold half a million copies and was a Scholastic Book Club selection). When the YA genre seemed to dry up, I went on to film school, wrote screenplays at UCLA, worked in development at Paramount Pictures, and wrote a lot of literary short stories. I also wrote a few novels that have never been published. But you know, that's okay. I found a niche with my nonfiction/French women books. And I am now writing a novel about three American girls in Paris for the first time. All this is to say, that my French grandmother's example of coping and making the simplest things artful (whether it's a pretty lace dress made from an old curtain or a rabbit stew with garden vegetables) has taught me that anything can be beautiful and well-made. It's a matter of intention. And so, while the self-help genre might seem less than literary, I believe with honesty, attention to detail, and an eye for beauty, the genre can rise to the level of art.

Publishers Weekly had this to say of Ooh La La!: "This charming foray into French femininity will make a perfect cadeau for any Francophile lady." For more about author and teacher Jamie Cat Callan, visit Jamie Cat Callan.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Why Writers Should Still Write What They Know

Write from the heart
For years, fiction writers were exhorted to write what they knew about stories, themes and characters. With virtually limitless information now at the ready, we're more adventurous, exploring unfamiliar terrain. Yet, the sage advice of writing what we know still applies, perhaps less to the intellect, and more to the heart.

It's possible for a writer to have factual knowledge of her subject, but not intimate knowledge. This doesn't mean writers must experience all we write about, although the most meaningful stories have a kernel of truth. It does mean the writer must have a feel for the subject, a passion for the work and a personal sense of the characters that can't be achieved through research alone. Such knowledge takes a willingness to spend quality time with the story and its inhabitants on a regular basis, daily, if possible. Only time, and the trial and error of revision, can create the kind of knowledge our mentors really meant when they said, write what you know.

For more on this topic, see this supporting point: “Write What You Know” – The Most Misunderstood Piece of Good Advice, Ever.

And this counterpoint: Don’t Write What You Know.

Happy writing!