I’m extremely honoured to be hosting the multi-talented Samantha Vérant on my blog today in celebration of the release of her Memoir, Seven Letters from Paris.
An American by birth, Samantha is a travel addict, a self-professed oenophile and a determined, if occasionally unconventional, French chef.
Over the years, she’s visited many different countries, lived in many places and worked many jobs – always on the search for the one thing that truly excited her.
Then, one day, she found everything she’d been looking for: a passion for the written word and true love. Writing not only enabled her to open her heart, it led her to south-western France, where she’s now married to a sexy French rocket scientist she met over twenty years ago, a step-mom to two incredible kids (who think that McDonalds should get a Michelin two-star rating) and the adoptive mother to one ridiculously expensive Bengal cat.
When she’s not trekking from Provence to the Pyrénées, tasting wine in American-sized glasses, or embracing her inner Julia Child while deliberating what constitutes the perfect boeuf bourguignon, Samantha is making her best effort to relearn those dreaded conjugations.
Feel free to pull up a stump and get to know her a little better.
Before I continue though, I’d just like to thank Penguin Random House Australia, more particularly Emma from their publicity department, for inviting me to take part in this Blog Tour.
Please be sure to visit Paranormal Angel
‘s blog (the previous stop on this tour) to find out Seven Things that Samantha has learnt while living in France.
Samantha, it’s a real treat to have you here to celebrate the recent release of Seven Letters from Paris.
Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be here!
Tell us about your childhood.
I was born in Los Angeles at UCLA hospital in October of 1969, where I led the quintessential beach baby lifestyle…until my biological father drove off into the California sunset, leaving my mom and me in the sand. (Where are those tiny violins when I need them?) After spending some time with the grandparents at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, mom and I packed up our bags and headed to Chicago in 1972. In 1975, my mom married Tony, the only father (and best dad in the world) I’ve ever known. He formally adopted me at the age of ten, shortly before the birth of my sister, Jessica.
A classically trained mezzo-soprano, in 1985 I attended The Chicago Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, choosing theatre as my major. In 1986, because of my father’s rising career in the world of advertising, our family moved to Boston and two years later to London. Along with these moves, my interests and dreams metamorphosed and art became a big part of my life. I traded in arias and monologues for advertising design, graduating cum laude from Syracuse University, and moved back to Chicago.
You are also the author of a children’s novel, King of the Mutants. Would you mind telling us more about your journey to becoming an author/memoirist? What’s next on the menu for you?
I’m probably the only author with a romantic memoir and a wacky middle grade adventure coming out at the same time. Bah! Who needs a pen name? The truth? It always comes out!
I began writing in 2007, right after a move and in the process of searching for a new job as a graphic designer. A bit down in the dumps, I was sitting outside with my black Labrador retriever, Ike, and a red cardinal perched itself on a branch above our heads, chirping wildly. The bird flew away and inspiration hit. I ran into the house, fired up my computer, and started writing my first book, Survival of the Weirdest, a middle grade adventure about two kids who play a role in saving the earth’s creatures from extinction. (I’m a big-time animal lover!) Three weeks later, I had written 80k. Of course, this draft was terrible, but the writing bug had bitten pretty hard.
My road to publication wasn’t easy; it was paved with barbed wire and loads of frustrations. But, in the end, I earned my racing stripes. And I never gave up. It took me five books and seven (there’s my number) years to land a publishing deal.
As for what’s up next, I do have plans for memoir book two. In fact, I’ve already written 35k of it. It picks up where Seven Letters from Paris leaves off. I jump into a new life in France…but I forget to pack a parachute and I land pretty hard. But as I settle into my new life, and as Jean-Luc’s children and I become closer, and as the relationship with Jean-Luc and I intensifies, no matter how terrifying things appear, I remind myself I have love on my side. And with love on my side I can do anything (including renovating a kitchen and building a bedroom– the true test of any relationship!)
I recently finished reading Seven Letters from Paris and I personally think that your experiences have been amazing – almost like a fairytale really, with Fate playing Fairy Godmother – but for those who haven’t yet heard about it, would you mind sharing with us the story they can expect?
An American girl falling in love with a sexy Frenchman at a café in Paris could have all the makings of a clichéd romance— but only if the girl didn’t dump the guy on a train platform at Gare de Lyon, never responding to one of his seven love letters until twenty years later.
I am the American girl. And my memoir, Seven Letters from Paris, is a story about second chances in both life and in love.
Six years ago, when I lost my job in advertising, left a loveless marriage, moved home to the parents in Southern California at the age of forty, filed for bankruptcy, and became a dog walker, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. But, while questioning the disastrous state of my life, I also decided to face past regrets— starting with the easiest one first: Jean-Luc, the Frenchman I’d left at Gare de Lyon. A modern day Mata Hari, I tracked down his email and sent off a heartfelt apology explaining the reasons behind my twenty-year silence. I thought I was only looking for forgiveness; I got more than that. One email followed another, and, for the first time in my life, I opened up my heart. Lots of people in midlife search out former flames online, and in some instances may actually meet face-to-face. In my case, I didn’t just meet up with the one who got away: Jean-Luc flew me to France and we rekindled an unfinished romance from decades before. We married on the seventh of May in 2010, which was exactly one year to the day since I’d turned to Google to find him.
Is there a particular part of the Memoir that you enjoyed writing?
I loved writing the flashback chapters, which bring the reader (and me) back to 1989 Paris and the first time I met Jean-Luc. Those pages just flowed and they were a lot of fun to write!
I must admit that I was enthralled by those flashback chapters because it is apparent that you poured your heart into them. In saying that, a Memoir is a very personal piece of writing that strives for emotional truths and is also a means by which one can validate and give meaning to their life. Before you started writing, did you already have an idea (“burning question”) as to what part of your life you wanted to share with the rest of the world and how did you brainstorm the angle you sought to come from?
Love is a universal theme, and many women struggle with finding it, believing in it, or understanding it. In my case, I pinpointed the issues keeping me from truly loving somebody else and letting them love me, I got over my fears and took risks, and, in the end, I opened up my heart. I think readers will connect with the struggles I faced, along with the triumphs too— the reason I felt the need to share my story.
And what a story it is Samantha – it was really great to see the growth in you as a person. What was the best piece of writing advice you received while writing Seven Letters from Paris?
To hire an editor before pitching an agent or publisher.
Whether you want to self-publish or ease (ha!) on down the traditional publishing road, I really can’t stress how important it is to hire a well-seasoned editor. I did. And it was the best decision I’ve ever made. My editor didn’t change my voice, or fix grammar issues, or re-write my story. He asked me the hard-hitting questions. He suggested cuts. And additions. Things my alpha readers didn’t catch. I told him to “bring it on,” that I had thick skin, and could handle whatever he threw at me. We revised the manuscript again. We polished the book proposal up. Finally, I knew the manuscript was ready to send off into the wild. And it sold!
Do you have any advice to give aspiring memoirists?
Oh, boy! I have tons. Work on your craft. Connect with other writers. Learn the business, albeit traditional or self-publishing. Read in your genre. Build up your platform, your social connections. No matter how supportive she is – your mother is NOT a critique partner or a beta reader! And neither is your sister, spouse, or best friend. Put your work out there. Yes, with strangers. Revise. Edit. Repeat. Prepare to work hard. Don’t let rejection get you down. Dust yourself off. Move forward. One of the best resources on the web to learn the business AND connect with other writers is http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums
. Also, if you write middle grade or YA, check out Verla Kay’s “blueboards,” now located on The Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators site: http://www.scbwi.org/boards/
And the most important advice: never give up.
Have you discovered what constitutes the perfect boeuf bourguignon yet? If not, what French dish have you perfected since living in France?
What a fabulous recipe Samantha, thank you for sharing. Because I’m a great lover of wine and you’re a self-proclaimed oenophile, I thought it appropriate to ask this question. What wine do you think would be a great accompaniment to Seven Letters to Paris?
A former California girl, I must mention Pinot Noir (one of my favourite wines) at least a dozen times in Seven Letters from Paris. (I’m a big fan of the Pinots from both California and Oregon). As for French wines, my favourite cépage is Gaillac, the region not so far from my home in south-western France. So, I’d pair Seven Letters with a bottle of Gaillac or a Pinot Noir! Hey, why not both?
What type of wine would you classify yourself as?
I’d classify myself as an American sized glass of French red wine. (French pours are two fingers from the bottom of the glass – meant for ‘tasting.’ American pours are two fingers from the top of the glass – meant for, well, ‘enjoying fully!’) Anyhoo, we’ll go for a Gaillac. “Balanced and elegant, with savoury, smoky notes of white pepper and dried herbs meet bright red fruits and wild plums.” I’m a Libra- I’m all about balance! And I do have a wild side! Must be the plums!
Great answers! If you had a book club, what would it be reading and why?
I am in a book club and the last book I picked was The Goldfinch by Donna Tart. I chose it because I’d heard so many wonderful things about it – plus, I’m a former art major so I was really intrigued with the premise. The Goldfinch did not disappoint!
Samantha, it’s been an absolute pleasure having you visit. Thank you so much for joining me today and adding your own unique joie de vivre to this interview. Once again, a huge congratulations, but before you go, would you mind giving us a sneak peek of Seven Letters from Paris?
Thank you! Thank you! Merci mille fois! It’s an exciting time! And I’d be happy to share the preface! It’s a nice teaser…
Tonight I’m cooking from the heart, choosing self-belief over fear.
Although I’ve always been a culinary adventuress, experimenting with recipes ripped from the pages of Bon Appétit and Gourmet since the age of twelve, Jean-Luc and I usually prepare this particular meal together—him manning the stove, me the eager sous-chef, slicing and dicing the parsley, shallots, and garlic. Now, thanks to his gentle coaching, I’m a little more confident when it comes to the art of preparing flammable French cuisine. And I can’t let a little heat scare me out of my own kitchen.
The time has finally come to conquer my anxiety of flambéing—on my own.
On the first strike, the match hisses to life, trailing a wisp of smoke. I take a step back, reach out my arm, and touch the lit tip into the Pastis with a steady hand. Flames flare up and the aroma of the anise-flavored liqueur permeates the kitchen. The blaze settles into a simmer, and I let out the breath I’ve been holding in. My technique is still not flawless though; to the cat’s delight, one plump shrimp tumbles onto the floor. Bella lifts her haunches and pounces on her prey. I may not have the pan flip down, but I have one very happy, pint-sized panther.
After setting the timer, I twist the knob on the burner to low, which will allow the flavors of the Pastis to infuse the shrimp just a bit more. Jean-Luc has already set the table outside, and I step out into the garden to join him. “Wine?” he asks.
I nod and take my seat within earshot of the kitchen, noting my husband’s handsome profile, his manicured sideburns, and his chiseled jaw with the five o’clock shadow as he uncorks the bottle of Cabernet d’Anjou.
I am just as attracted to him as I’d been when we first met over twenty years ago.
Right as we’re about to clink glasses, the timer in the kitchen buzzes. Before I can move a muscle, Jean-Luc says, “Stay. Stay.” He flies out of his chair and into the house. A few seconds later, he rushes back to the deck and places a glossy black paper bag on my dinner plate. I can make out the name of a jeweler: 18k, Montres et Bijoux.
I point, my mouth dropping open. “But you weren’t supposed to get me anything—”
“I wanted to.” He shrugs and blows air between his lips like only a Frenchman can do without looking silly.
“But the shrimp—”
“Can wait a minute. I turned the burner off.” He motions to the bag. “Ouvre-le.”
He doesn’t need to translate his words into English. With a shake of my head, I reach through layers of hot pink tissue paper to discover a bracelet resting in a satin-lined box. The clasp is delicate, but Jean-Luc manages to hitch it in seconds. The strand twists on my wrist and a small amethyst heart rests on my pulse, its facets glittering in the candlelight. Something about the way the light flickers on the jewel, almost beating, brings on a moment of complete clarity. I look to the starlit sky before meeting Jean-Luc’s gaze, trying to find my breath. I can only whisper, “Thank you.”
Jean-Luc’s hands clasp onto mine. “Sam, you never, ever have to thank me.”
Oh, but I do.
Three years ago, when I left a loveless marriage, filed for bankruptcy, became a dog walker, and moved back in with my parents in Southern California, I thought things couldn’t get any worse. But then, in a moment of longing and memory, I used the Internet to track down Jean-Luc and rekindle an unfinished romance from decades before. Tonight is our second wedding anniversary.
This is the story of how I rebooted my life and restarted my heart.
Cheers and bisous (kisses) from Toulouse,
Seven Letters from Paris can be purchased from the following links: