I wanted to introduce Cara in French – you know – something sophisticated – something to make me look worldly – but my Berlitz Dictionary of Foreign Terms only has one listing that came close; "Parler francais comme une vache enragee – which means – to speak French like an enraged cow – or – murder the French language. So – I’ll just say you don’t have to murder anyone to read Cara’s wonderful series – she handles the murders very well on her own – and solves them with utmost soigne.
CARA BLACK http://www.carablack.com
EE: Whispers are rampant that some envious wags (once upon a time) claimed you began your series in Paris just so you could fly over there each year and call it ‘research’ – but now that your SEVEN books have become such hits – isn’t it terrific to have the last laugh? Come on – fess up – it feels great, n’est-ce pas?
CB: It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Now at least I can write it off. But I still pinch myself, wish I could say there was a big plan – but in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d write a book set in Paris, let alone more than one, or a series. I never intended to. Pablo Picasso said, "I am always doing things I can’t do. That’s how I get to do them." For me, since childhood, there was always this draw to Paris and this passion to find a voice and relate a story of my friend’s mother – a hidden Jewish girl during the German Occupation of Paris – that drove me. I was reading tons of P.D. James (Baroness P.D. James), at the time…and thought, well, what about using a detective story as a structure, a framework to tell this story? I needed a detective, one who tied her scarf the right way, but was an outsider because I can’t write as a French woman. That idea, three and a half years of writing it and dumb luck converged. My publisher took a big chance and bought it. I’m truly blessed.
What an important and inspiring subject matter to explore – particularly today for so many younger readers.
EE: With the great success you’ve had in Paris, any chance you might someday begin another series in a different locale?
CB: I’d like to take Aimee out of my Paris to Marseilles or Lyon for the weekend. There’s lots of crime there, but every time I mention it, my editor shakes her head. So I guess a new series is in order. Or a standalone. People always ask me why I don’t write about San Francisco, where I live – but it feels too close. I don’t feel removed enough to write about it…at least now. During several years spent traveling – I’ve got experiences to draw on; living in Switzerland and working in a train station, riding a motorcycle across North Africa – Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, later running out of money and sleeping in a Bangkok temple. It’s all fodder. And there’s an incredible part of London with canals – they call it the London Venice – and it’s so cool and…I really need to explore.
Need to explore? What? You haven’t seen enough yet? Sheesh.
EE: Speaking of Paree – what is your greatest extravagance when there?
CB: I go bare bones on research trips, scrape up frequent flier miles and camp on my friends couch in Montmartre. But taking my friends and contacts out to dinner has become part of the routine, especially the policewoman who invited me to the police firing range and the private detective who lets me hang out with her…inviting them out is the only way I can thank them. And the French dining is an art form, a wonderful experience lasting hours, with the wine flowing, many courses and full of discussion. I splurged once attending the Comedie Francaise, the national theatre – red velvet seats, murals – the works – to see Phedre, the Greek tragedy. Despite the classical French which went right over my head, just sitting in those seats that Proust, Cocteau, you name it, had sat in was worth it.
Oh, to sit in the same room as Proust or Cocteau! How I envy you that!
EE: If you were not writing – what other artistic career might you have chosen?
CB: Photography. I’d master an old Leica, figure out all those F-stops and adjustments and develop my own film and do gelatin prints. Lazy me, I use a digital like everyone and I wish there was more ‘traditional’ photography.
Honey, I’m all for the old stuff – I royally screw up my digital. A simple point & shoot is my speed. Do they even make those anymore? 🙂
EE: Is it true you listen to old Yves Montand and Edith Piaf recordings when you write? Or, is that another little tid-bit one of my not so dependable spies made up? I tell you – I gotta watch those guys like a hawk.
CB: They are remarkably informed. Matter of fact, Piaf’s on right now singing ‘Je ne regrette rien’ – she sets the mood. And the singer Georges Brassens who slips in zingers of social content and sexual innuendo in his songs and isn’t well known here. He was sort of a folk hero, anti-establishment, and died in poverty – but is almost as well-beloved as Piaf in France. I love those old died-in-the-wool socialists and anarchists who breathe character along with their Gitanes smoke and are never PC.
I once had a mad crush on Montand. But Simone Signoret (his wife for those of you too young to know) wasn’t too happy with me. But when he was spirited away by Marilyn – we became fast friends. She was a formidable woman – hell of an actress too.
EE: Mysteryville is abuzz with the rumor that your Aimee Leduc is being considered as a future "Marianne" = the symbolic figure of the French Republic (ala Catherine Deneuve whose face graced the medal between 1985-2000) – but you’ve declined the honor. What?
CB: That was Aimee’s decision. Not mine. I tried reasoning with her. But she just shrugged, expelled air with that Gallic pout and rolled her eyes. "Not my style," her only comment.
You need to sit down and talk to that woman! She turned down having Paris at her feet? Nay – the whole of France? Listen, Cara – I can fly down to The City anytime. Just call me, okay? We’ll talk some sense into her.
EE: Okay, time to get serious. You’re going on tour – you can combine efforts with two other writers. Uh, departed writers. Who would they be? And what about the new book?
CB: The dream dead tour would be; Raymond Chandler ( a big drinker-we all know him), Jean-Patrick Manchette (a hard drinking, smoking French noir writer who died too early). I’d just sit on the sidelines and watch. For the new book – I’m doing a series of events with David Corbett, Tony Broadbent and Rhys Bowen. We’re taking the California libraries hostage with panels on mysteries in foreign lands. I’d love to do another reading with Diane Johnson, (Le Divorce). She’s a wonderful writer, wit and ex-pat doyenne of Paris.
Like I said – I can fly down to The City anytime. I mean – if you needed an extra hand, that is. Oh, wait. Carmel isn’t a foreign land, is it. Scratch that.
EE: What book do you wish you’d written – and why?
CB: I just finished The Comedians by Graham Greene. I could never write that book. It’s his, but it blew me away. There’s two books that inspire me. The Lover by Marguerite Duras. The words, the sensory detail, the emotion painted with economy, forbidden love, the poignancy of a young girl adrift in the turmoil of colonial Indochina…the book touches me every time I read it . And The Day of the Jackal by Fredrick Forsyth. Not a false note – we’re every step of the way with the Jackal – and despite the fact that we all know de Gaulle escapes assassination, I’m hooked each time.
Great choices! Graham Greene is one of my all-time hero’s. I haven’t tried Duras – but I’m all for sensory detail. 🙂
EE: With seven books under your belt – what do you consider your greatest challenge with the series?
CB: Finding the part of Paris that gets under my skin and makes me go out at night to explore and walk the cobbles. In the rain or sleet – but holding that something, a nuance that intrigues, indefinable and hard to pinpoint. Sometimes it comes from an old black and white photo in a bin a the flea market, an 1940’s Paris phone book in the bookstall on the quai, the damp morning grass in the Luxembourg gardens, or meeting my friend’s neighbor who found an abandoned baby on her doorstep, overhearing a conversation in a cafe, that nugget the cafe owner drops about his time in the Resistance, or the gangster who he hid during a turf war in Pigalle. It’s always different and I’m always searching for that speck of gold to grow into a story. And to keep it fresh.
Hell, any one of those ‘nuggets’ would be terrific!
EE: What trait do you most admire in people?
CB: Loyalty. It’s underrated.
Oh, tell me about that.
EE: What is your least favorite word?
I thought you were going to say ‘Awesome’. But I totally agree. 🙂
EE: Time for the Walter Mitty Dream. What’s yours?
CB: Besides the farmhouse in Provence? The dream starts ‘Fasten your seat belts please, we’re beginning our descent into Charles deGaulle airport, Ground Crew reports weather in Paris a sunny 75 degrees.’ By some force of magic – a motorcycle awaits me outside Terminal 1 and I zoom along the peripherique into the outskirts of Paris, then onto Boulevard Saint-Ouen, nodding to the local cheese seller who waves ‘I’ll save you that good Camembert that just came in.’ I pull up at Cafe Rotonde, to find my smiling friends Anne-Francis, her beautiful one year old daughter, Zouzou, Sarah (re-united with her long lost love-but that’s another story) and Cathy, my policewoman friend with an open bottle of champagne – Veuve Cliquot, of course -sitting at an outdoor table. And then my son, magically arrived from high school, appears with our dog Kipper who also magically behaves and has – by osmosis – imbibed the well behaved manners of Parisian dogs followed by my husband who smiles..’I’m going to run a bookstore in Paris now…you’ve convinced me.’ Of course, we’re joined by Catherine Deneuve who just happens to be walking by and shares her makeup secrets and Charlotte Gainsbourg who begs, "I want to play Aimee in the new film, please.’ And the incredible director, Bertrand Tavernier appears with a script in hand. ‘I’ve made a few changes, little ones.’ And then Georges Simenon, magically risen from the dead and writing again, sits down, pipe hanging from the side of his mouth and says – ‘Maigret needs a helper.’
Seriously, what is REALLY your Walter Mitty Dream?
EE: I’m almost afraid to ask what you consider a perfect day now.
CB: Awakened at five by the aroma of freshly brewed espresso next to my pillow. The laptop connected and open to the page I was working on yesterday. Without further thought rereading the last paragraph I worked on and my fingers going from there into killer chase scenes…my favorite thing to write…and this time Aimee takes off into places I’d never even thought of. Five pages later – after figuring out a wonderful plot line that needs a little more simmer time in the unconscious, I throw on sweats, clean and warm from the dryer, take my dog for a walk, pick my son up from school and hear the teacher say ‘Yes, his homework was on time. He’s even done extra credit.’ My husband returning home from his bookstore after a record breaking day of sales, we order South Indian take out, and eat in front of the tele watching the French news and then The Wire.
Actually, that sounds pretty perfect.
EE: Oh, you’re gonna love this question – I stole it from Barbara Walters; If you were a tree – which would it be?
CB: A budding plane tree on the quai d’Anjou bordering the Seine outside Aimee’s apartment.
Why am I not surprised?
EE: Which writer would you love to have all to yourself in a quiet corner of the bar at the next con? And what would you talk about?
CB: Olen Steinhauer. Over a bottle of Polish vodka. We’d talk about everything-everything Budapest and Eastern Europe and where the hell does he get those stories, those multi-layered characters that live on the page, that breadth of knowledge about Hungarian secret police and how does he write such gorgeous books?
He won’t tell. He’s ignored my e-mails. But if you can wrangle it out of him…well, maybe we can talk?
My thanks to Cara for playing On The Bubble with Evil E today! I hope she’ll think kindly of me and come back again. And don’t forget – MURDER ON THE ILLE SAINT-LOUIS is ready and waiting for you to pick it up. And you don’t have to use, beg or borrow frequent flier credits to visit Paris – just tag along with Aimee and you’ll see the real deal.