Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Sont Les Mots Qui Vont Tres Bien Ensemble

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.


  1. Wow, Lynne, I will be putting your book near the top of my list of books to acquire. I share your fascination of life under wartime conditions, and how it can make or break people. But my favorite period is the First World War, and I gravitated to it shortly after 9/11, of all things. I was trying to remember a book that adequately captured the loss of innocence that so many Americans felt after the attacks. Then I recalled a favorite children's book, "Rilla of Ingleside," which is the last of the Anne of Green Gables series. It's set during WWI, and Anne and her family all suffer through the long years of war over on the Canadian homefront, not knowing what was truly happening "over there" although it directly impacted their lives.

    I was completely struck by the characters' emotions and reactions, and I delved into WWI more thoroughly, beginning with Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" (she was arguably the most famous British Red Cross nurse to write a memoir of the war). I was fortunate that I was still in college at the time, and was already a history major, so all I had to do was shift concentrations from early modern to modern Europe. (Ironically, now it's hard for me to read "Rilla" because the viewpoint is so blindly pro-Allied, and not one informed by a true understanding of the events leading up to the war--I guess that's the curse of my historical training).

    But WWI has never lost its fascination for me, especially for the ambiguity surrounding its origins and its overall purpose. I even got a Master's degree studying it (despite my adviser's claims of it being "a dead horse" of a field). I've also been working on the same novel, set in the period, for almost a decade now. Capturing the sense of place, along with the unique (and often strangely familiar) cultural experiences of that era is what drives me these days. I'm looking forward to seeing where your journey back to 1940s Paris took you in your novel!

    PS. I'm also originally from Colorado, though it sounds like you lived farther west and higher up in the mountains than I did. I was born in Boulder, but was lucky to spend parts of summers in Gothic, Crested Butte and Aspen. The landscape is truly inspiring out there, and it strongly informed my childhood as well.

  2. Lynne, welcome to JRW! what a wonderful story and yes, why weren't we all invited??

    I imagine there must be a considerable difference between Paris today and the period your book is set in. How did you get those details right?

    I LOVE Paris. I would take every trip to Paris, but my husband puts his foot down....

  3. This sounds like a wonderful book. I am going to add it to my wish list. I love the story of how the gorgeous brooch led you there.

  4. Never knew that about the Cross of Lorraine. Or even heard of it before.

    I'm with Roberta--Paris is always at the top of my travel list. Such an amazing city. The Eiffel Tower is probably the place that I most wanted to see, but not from any one particular book. It has a completely different look and feel to it when you're standing below it. That was totally unexpected.

    Your book sounds wonderful, Lynn. Best of luck with it, and I'd be thrilled to win a copy.

  5. Oh, hi everyone...And yes, Paris. Every time we go, I think--oh, it can;t be as wonderful as I remember. And then--it is.

    It's the light. It really is.

    And the ...well, everything.
    From the history to the art to he food to the scarves. And attitude. Wouldn't it be fantastic to speak fluent fluent French? In my dreams, sometimes I do.

    But Lynn, tell us more more more!

    What about the brooch?

  6. Lynne,

    Congrats on the release of your debut novel! You got me at The Secret Garden. It was the first novel I'd ever read, and I remember the magic and mystery of that book. I read it in the back seat of my parent's old Volvo.

    I, too, am fascinated by wartime Europe, as my mother was born in East Germany just before the war. Looking forward to reading your book!

    Best of luck,


  7. The Magic of Place. LOVE IT!! I think my favorite part of reading a book is to be transported to another time and place.

  8. This sounds like a really terrific read. Thanks for the recommendation

  9. Hi Lynne-

    1) you got me with The Secret Garden. Still one of my fave books and I love to watch the movies when they are on (my secret guilty pleasure, or one of them!)

    2) I must be honest, France has never been at the top of my list to visit- the American Cemetaries, yes, but you are probably the first person whose descriptions have ever really made me want to add it to my list. I love the way you describe it. Thank you.

    3) Is the book available on audio? This sounds like the type of story I love to listen to while driving. (I love my romance novels, but prefer to read them.) Either way this will be on my shopping list- audio or digital. I love a good WW2 story!

  10. You know--digression, sorry--I don't think I ever read the Secret Garden. Hmm. Would I still like it?

    And wasn't there a movie? With a wonderfully eerie Linda Ronstadt song as the theme? Winter Light, I think.

    Now back to you, Lynn!

  11. What a wonderful story! I am going to the library today to see if it is available. If not, I plan to purchase it asap! Your research of the brooch sounds fascinating. Can't wait to read.

  12. I love to read books that bring back memories of places I've been: Paris, Italy, Singapore. But I'm not sure I want to actually go back. Guess I'm afraid they've changed and no longer match the wonderful memories

  13. My favorite park in Paris! I wandered for hours in the late night/early morning (blissfully unaware of where I should or shouldn't go) and if you come across the Eugene Atget photograph of Parc Monceau shrouded in mist, then you know...

  14. Hi Rebecca

    I love hearing about how you became so interested in WWI - isnt it amazing how powerful stories and their settings are?

    The mountains of Colorado are beautiful, arent they?

  15. Lynne,
    I am TOTALLY with you on setting. That's often where I start with a new novel. And I can't think of a more fascinating setting that WWII Paris -- I'm toying with WWII Marseille as as setting myself. And you've provided wonderful inspiration.

    Thanks for joining us on Jungle Red.

  16. Thanks so much for the welcome Roberta! I am so excited to be on Jungle Red today!

    One of the benefits of writing books set in Paris is that I have extra ammunition in choosing France as our vacation destination!

    Paris HAS changed in many ways. I rely on sources from the 30’s and 40’s to keep the details accurate. There are many memoirs and news accounts. I also pore over photos and maps from that time. When I walk through Paris, what I see is often filtered through what I’ve learned from those other sources. I think I experience the city very different from most!

  17. One of my favorite moments in Paris was when someone came up to me and Jonathan at a sidewalk cafe...and said "Excuse me, do either of you speak any English?"

  18. Thanks Trish!

    Karen – I also love the Eiffel Tower. Before I went for the first time, a couple of people told me that it’s touristy and there are long lines, and its not really that great. But – I found it to be spectacular. Standing underneath it and staring up at the ironwork. Taking the elevator to the upper levels and viewing Paris from that vantage point… I always make time to see the tower when I’m in Paris!

    Hank – Thanks so much for having me today! I am thrilled to be here! And yes! The light, the scarves, the food, the history that that lays itself out at your feet. I love it all.

    The brooch that started it is a rather simple thing, as far as Art Deco jewelry goes. It is costume jewelry, made of rhinestones and has that unusual little latch for the pin used at that time. In the book, the jewelry runs more in the Cartier realm. That research was quite fun!

    The protagonist Claire was inspired by the jewelry as well. I was thumbing through a book, Famous Jewelry Collectors, drooling over the photos of jewelry inside, and found the stories of a few different women who were born in poverty but used their beauty and wits to amass jewelry collections that rivalled the princesses in Europe. I loved thinking about a woman with that level of desire and determination. Would it bring happiness?

  19. Thanks Pam! Have you ever read Skeletons at the Feast? It was inspired by a diary and is a very interesting telling of what life was like for rural Germans near the eastern front toward the end of WWII.

    Thanks PJ – I agree completely!

    Thanks Brenda – I hope you enjoy it!

  20. Ev – I’m not sure about audio. I hope so. My stepmom is a quilter and she listens to audiobooks all the time!

    And the Secret Garden. I still read it regularly.

    I think you would enjoy it, Hank.

    I understand it differently when I read it now. For example, the book starts with the main character Mary living in India. Everyone around her dies in a cholera outbreak. But she survives because nobody cares for her and she sits alone in her room. What a way to start a beloved children’s book, right? But the story is very inspiring!

  21. Wow, I was transported to the Parc for a few minutes. I am looking forward to being in Paris while I read this book. Dee

  22. Thanks, S Auger!

    Cttiger - I understand. Honestly I had read so much about the art, history and culture of Paris the first time I went, I was worried that it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Luckily, I loved it even more than I had hoped.

    Circuitmouse – Parc Monceau is beautiful. I’ll look for that photo!

    Jan – thanks so much for having me, today! Marseille sounds like a wonderful setting in WWII. I’d love to read that!

  23. Thanks Dee!

    Hank - One of my proudest moments in Paris was when a French woman asked me for directions!

  24. Oh, wow, now I know what I'm buying when I visit my local bookstore this weekend:-) Lynne, your book ticks all my boxes.

    Art Deco jewelry? WWII Paris? Gardens? My novel Where Memories Lie wraps around the disappearance of an Art Deco diamond brooch during a young Jewish woman's escape from Germany in 1939. My character ends up in London, but Paris is my second love, and I always find it so magical.

    And I love The Secret Garden, although I don't think I read it until I was in my late teens or early twenties. And yes, Hank, you would still like it.

    PS I did lots of research on Art Deco jewelry--fascinating. My fictional brooch was based on a piece auctioned at Christie's.

  25. Lynne, I loved how you described your experience of viewing France through the lens of the 30s and 40s. I've always done that in London (I haven't been back to Paris since childhood). Both cities have elements of the historical mixed with the modern almost everywhere you go, it seems. I took an architecture class on London and Paris back in undergrad, and I'm sure the next time I'm in Paris, I'll be looking for examples of le Courbusier's designs--they, in many ways, defined that era, as I'm sure you could tell me in greater detail.

    Have you ever been to northern France? That's where I want to go next, but don't have the ability to write off the trip for taxes till I finish my novel, most likely. Wish I could, though!

  26. Welcome to Jungle Red, Lynn! Anyone who loves that scene in The Secret Garden has me at Hello. Love love love Paris... but how did I miss the Park Monceau? Next time, for sure.

    Yes, it's the light. Notre Dame at sunset, sunrise, in full light -- there's a reason why Monet painted it so many different times.

    But for me--and this won't come as a surprise to anyone--Paris is about the food. There was bakery up the street from where we stayed last time where we got an apricot tart that was the best single piece of pastry I've ever had in my life. A little cream, a sprinkling of pistachios...

  27. Lynne, welcome to JRW.
    I have to order your book instantly--exactly the sort of thing I adore.

    And special places--I wrote Murphy's Law after I went to Ellis Island for the first time, because I was so moved.

  28. Thanks Rebecca. I’ve driven around a bit in the north of France – in the regions of Normandy and Brittany. Beautiful forests, rolling hills, lovely coastline, and my go-to meal was cider and mussels. Yum! My favorite place there (besides Giverny – pure unadulterated heaven) is St. Malo. On the coast, it was a corsair’s village with an illustrious pirate past, huge ramparts and stone forts. It was heavily bombed in WWII, but the city center was rebuilt in a historic way and is great fun to walk around. It will appear in the second book.

    Hallie and Rhys – thanks so much for letting me play for the day at Jungle Red.

    Yes, Hallie - Parc Monceau is definitely worth seeing your next stop. It’s in a fabulous neighborhood too, so take a few hours and enjoy!

    And the desserts – so good. I am a chocolate person through and through, but on my first day in Paris last time I tried an apricot croissant at the bakery a couple doors down from my apartment. It was so incredible that I got an apricot croissant nearly every day for the entire month I was there. I can still taste that mix of sweet creamy tartness. (It is probably still visible on my hips too!)

    Rhys – I haven’t made it to Ellis Island yet, but I took the ferry to the Statue of Liberty once and was so moved that I spent the day there. I look forward to reading Murphy's Law ASAP and will make sure to get to Ellis Island when I'm in NYC this summer.

  29. Deb - your book sounds fascinating! All my favorite things.

    And the jewelry - there is such artistry in Art Deco and the amazing workmanship is available from the finest diamond pieces to rhinestone costume jewelry. My collection is slowly growing.

  30. Ah, The Secret Garden. A friend of mine once told me that she could learn everything she really needed to know about a person by asking them which of the three young people in the story they identified with. For me it was Dickon.

    Definitely putting your book on the list, Lynne.

  31. SalT - Wow - Which of the three main characters of The Secret Garden are you - would be worthy of its own blog post.

    Growing up on a small ranch in the mountains of Colorado, surrounded by animals, my childhood was most like Dickon. But I identified completely with Mary. My contrariness, I suppose :)

  32. Okay, off to get TWO books now..Lynn's--and The Secret Garden.

    AND THE WINNER IS: Rebecca! Rebecca, email me via my website--or send me your address in the comments--and I will send you Lynn's book! Hurray! And thanks for being a stalwart JRW pal.

    (My husband drew the winner from a hat--a Red Sox hat, of course.)

    Thanks so much for being here today, Lynn! And I do hope you'll visit again..

  33. Congratulations Rebecca - I hope you enjoy the book.

    Thanks so much Hank for the opportunity to join Jungle Red today! I had a wonderful time and would love to come back again!

  34. Wow, that's so exciting I won! Lynn, I can't wait to read your book! Thanks for all of your gracious responses, and I hope you come by here again soon. ^_^ Hank, I'll be sending you an email shortly, thanks for handling this!

  35. I came here to read about Vicki and small towns in part because I know her fictional town's real-life counterpart, and stayed to be enthralled by Lynne's tale of Paris. I was in Paris as a young girl and her description brought the esprit of the place back to life so vividly that I must now go find her book.

  36. PS - Rebecca is so right about Vera Brittain's books giving an insight into the decimation of a whole generation, and about the challenge of re-reading 'Rilla of Ingleside' with its naive pro-Allied perspective. Yet 'Rilla' is an accurate reflection of its time and place and society. Punishing neighbours thought to be pro-German was a popular pastime in all parts of Canada during WW1, and many German-heritage Canadians ended up selling cheap and moving away from neighbourhoods that became overtly hostile.

    Forgot to mention earlier that Art Deco jewellery is a particular fascination of mine. I'll have to look up Deb's book too (and some people doubt that blogging can lead to sales!!!).

  37. Jayne- its easy to be enthalled by Paris, isnt it? I can't imagine how wonderful it would be to experience it for the first time as a young girl.

    I have added books to my list too!

  38. This book was great! I used a birthday gift certificate and got it on my Kindle. There was no way my name would be drawn out of a Red Sox hat, ahem.