HANK: Sigh. Ya know, research is a tough job. You've got to be devoted, resourceful, tough. You've got to go anywhere that's necessary, braving all difficulties and fighting your fear. The fantastically talented Lynn Sheene certainly did that. But just one question--why didn't she bring us all with her?
The Magic of Place
by Lynn Sheene
When I was a girl my mom read me The Secret Garden, the story of the contrary orphan sent to live at her uncle’s manor in the moors of England. I can close my eyes even today and see the moment nine-year old Mary pushed through the ivy-covered garden door and found an abandoned garden. Leafless, climbing roses so overgrown they tangled in tree branches; brown clumps of grass, an inquisitive robin watching over her. The characters’ healing came with their commitment and passion to restore that garden to its blooming splendor. And at the story’s end, the revived garden had worked its magic on me too.
I felt the same kind of spark when I discovered 1940’s Paris.
Curious about the past of a French Art Deco brooch, I investigated Paris and the culture in the 1930’s and 1940’s.What I found captivated me.
The City of Light, yes, of the enchanting Luxembourg Gardens, the treasured Louvre, the stately Tuileries, but during the dark years of the German Occupation, life itself was a daily struggle. Yet, men and women risked their lives to resist, whether they looked away when a child graffittied a wall with the victory sign and cross of Lorraine – Free France’s symbol, published a Resistance newspaper, or took up weapons.
In the end, Paris was revived through the courage, commitment and lives of French and Allied soldiers, as well as the Parisians themselves.
In my novel, THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS a young Jazz-Age Manhattan socialite heads to Paris to escape her secret past, only to find herself swept up in the danger and drama of the French Resistance. A woman whose sole passion is to live well is forced to find work in a flower shop and spy for the French Resistance in exchange for false identity papers. Despite the ever-present danger, she comes to love the enduring beauty of the City of Light. Bravery and intelligence make her a valuable operative, and slowly her values shift as she witnesses the courageous spirit of the Parisians.
I spent many happy times in Paris since my first spark - enjoying Sunday afternoon strolls in Luxembourg Gardens, café crèmes at sidewalk cafes, and shopping in boutiques artfully displaying everything from sexy lingerie to decadent bouquets to fresh mussels over ice. Diet-be-damned, I never turned down the bread.
But one of my favorite places has always been Parc Monceau, a serene and fanciful English-style park with secretive curving paths that surprise with statues, a Dutch windmill, and even an Egyptian pyramid. Tucked away on the northern side is a beautiful pool lined on one end by faux Roman ruins.
I was so taken by Parc Monceau, I used the benches facing the water – a popular place to rest and enjoy life - in my novel.
This spring I returned to Parc Monceau for the first time since THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS was published. I sat on one of those benches in the shade of a towering oak tree while toddlers threw bread crumbs to ducks in the pool. The moment was magical, as if I had opened the door to my own secret garden, walked inside, and sat down amidst the blooms.
I wonder - how much of my writing, even my concept of beauty and place, I owe to reading the Secret Garden?
Do memorable settings in books impact you? Would you, or did you, visit them?
(HANK: Merci, chere Lynn! And Reds, I'm giving away a copy of Lynn's book to a lucky commenter!)
Lynn Sheene grew up in the mountains of Colorado, pen in hand, gazing through the quaking aspen trees and dreaming of far off places and eras. Her passion for stories came early from her book-loving parents and poet grandfather.
After graduating from University of California, Santa Barbara and working as an environmental consultant and science writer, Lynn turned to her dream of fiction writing. Her longtime love of Paris and the 1930’s and 1940’s intersected with the discovery of a French Art Deco brooch. Captivated by the jewel’s possible wartime past in Occupied France, Lynn began to study this intriguing and dangerous time through research trips, memoirs and news accounts. THE LAST TIME I SAW PARIS is her first novel, a story inspired by the everyday patriots who risked their lives for the country they loved.
Lynn is a member of International Thriller Writers, Romance Writers of America, Alliance Française, and the French Heritage Society. In addition to writing, Lynn enjoys travel, art deco, films, photography, and all things French. She lives in Southern California with her husband and dog.