Sunday, May 22, 2016

Susan's April in Paris

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Bonjour, Reds and lovely readers! Er, hello... Still walking on air after the Paris trip, to research Maggie Hope #7, THE PARIS SPY. 

But meanwhile, no rest for the wicked. The ARC (Advance Readers Copy) of THE QUEEN'S ACCOMPLICE is out! Huzzah! (And if you're a book blogger and would like to request a NetGalley copy, please contact publicist Alex Coumbis at

Meanwhile, it's my job to go over the ARC, to make the last corrections. As you see, I have Lola, trusty editrix extraordinnaire, at my side during the process....

But back to Paris!  I went solo, for ten days, with a primitive grasp of French and a long list of sites I wanted to visit for my research. I'm happy to report that I made it through the whole trip speaking only French — with just a bit of Spanish thrown in. (Studied Spanish for eight years, so comes out sometimes when I try other Romance languages.)

For this trip, I wasn't doing "tourist Paris" — it really was all about researching the Nazi occupation during the spring of 1942, a few months before the infamous July 16 Vel' d'Hiv roundup of the Jews.

To that end, one of my first stops was the Musée de la Armée — the Army Museum. Where most people beeline to the tomb of Napoleon, I spent my day in the World War I and World War II sections, as well as the Charles DeGaulle exhibit.

I took photos of the parts I found most interesting:


But it was this graffito, part of a preserved wall — V for Victory plus the symbol of the Résistance — that really was a game changer for me. With every book, I've found a place or a thing that's the catalyst to making it all come alive for me. This was it. Whoever wrote this symbol risked certain death if caught. And still, she or he did it, as part of the fight, no matter how small. 

I found it powerful.

Of course, not everything was quite so serious. Here's a gorgeous Elsa Schiaparelli dress from 1942, which I saw at the Louvre Mode and Textile Museum. (It was probably made for and worn by the wife of a high-ranking collaborator or the mistress of a Nazi officer.)

It was part of an exhibit of French fashion throughout history:

And here are some chic chien:

And hey, isn't that Aimee Leduc's detective agency's sign, from Cara Black's fantastic series? (If only Maggie and Aimee could meet....)

On the darker end of the spectrum, I did visit Avenue Fochs, home of Gestapo Headquarters in Paris:

The fifth floor, what used to be the servants quarters, is where the Gestapo kept Résistance workers and captured British agents, while "interrogation" took place in the cellar. 

However, I found this early-blooming iris, the "fleur de lis" and symbol of France, growing opposite.

SUSAN: I hope you enjoyed the photos! Is Paris the setting of any of your favorite books? I recently reread Dickens' A TALE OF TWO CITIES and remembered why I loved it so much in high school. And, of course, I'm a huge fan of Cara Black's Aimee Leduc novels. 

What are your favorite novels set in Paris or France? Please tell us in the comments!


  1. Thanks for sharing the pictures and the commentary . . . I hadn’t given much thought to book research being the same as walking in the footsteps of history . . . .

    Aside from Maggie’s wonderful stories, some of my favorite Paris/France tales include The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Phantom of the Opera, All the Light We Cannot See, and the children’s books about Madeline.

  2. Glad you had a fine trip. I have been meaning to get to Cara Black's series. One of these days... Ah, yes, Joan. Madeline!

  3. What a fantastic trip through history. Thank you. Glad that you are back and ready to write!

  4. Loved the photos and the inside scoop Susan--this will be a wonderful book!

  5. Joan, ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE -- yes! And I forgot about THE PARIS WIFE, as well.....

  6. Ah Susan, I envy you. Paris is my favorite place in the whole world, but sadly I haven't read a lot of books set there. I think the last one was Edward Rutherford's PARIS: A novel. And of course ALL THE LIGHT YOU DO NOT SEE, although I think of that as a novel of Brittany, another favorite French destination of mine.

    Good for you to spend the time speaking only French. I find that as soon as I say "Bonjour Madame", Madame answers in English. My accent is past embarrassing.

    When you visited Musee de Armee, I hope you made it to the rue Cler, fabulous market street in the 7th. If not, there is always next time.

    Making a note to order your incubating enfant as soon as possible.

  7. Sobbing by the end of A Tale of Two Cities--first read for sophomore English in high school. Most recently? The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Loved the photos!

  8. Not Paris but pre-WWII era, I am just finishing Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie book set in Munich. I cannot get enough of that time period and the settings.

    As a matter of fact, just started watching "Home Fires" -- about the transformation of British Women's Institutes into support work for "the duration."

    Thanks for these glimpses of Paris -- just love that city!

  9. This is so beautiful, and moving… And Susan, it truly makes a difference, reading your books, knowing the level of gorgeous research you do . And it is so important for us to remember -- end it must be so touching to see these sights, knowing what we know .
    You are fabulous.

  10. What a great trip, Susan! Don't you love seeing all the architecture in Paris? Everywhere you look there's another feast for the eyes.

    The Paris Wife was lovely, and if you've ever seen Midnight in Paris, the first part of it has many of the same characters. The movie and the book came out within a year or so of one another.

    Susan, I'm inspired by your solo trip. I'm leaving today for three weeks in Europe, a big part of which will be spent on my own. But first, three days with my youngest daughter in Venice, and then on to the writing retreat with Rhys! See you all in a few weeks.

  11. What a fabulous trip! Traveling solo without a solid grasp of the language is not for the faint of heart. Wow. I love Paris... but WHAT DID YOU EAT?? (For me the sites of Paris were mere interludes between bakeries and charcuteries and ice cream from Bethillon)

  12. Susan and I met at a very chic café she discovered, Hallie, and we ate salads;-) I had already been fortified by my daily croissant though. Susan is a diligent researcher and thanks to her I also visited the Musée de l'Armée and urge everyone to do so! That German directional sign still gives me the shivers!

  13. Karen in Ohio,

    Lucky you get to visit Italy for Rhys' writing workshop! Have fun!

    Great post about Paris. Off the top of my head, I think of the children's book Madeleine, which is set in Paris. It is one of my favorite books.

    A relative loved Gigi, which is another novel set in Paris.


  14. Susan,

    Thank you for sharing the photos of your Paris. I've been to Paris a few times and visited some of the places you did. Paris is a fascinating city with a rich history.

    To answer your question about some favorite books set in Paris, off the top of my head there's "The Scarlet Pimpernel" by Baroness Orczy; "The Paris Affair" by Tracy Grant, which is part of her Malcolm and Suzanne Rannoch series; a number of Lauren Willig's books in the Pink Carnation series take place in Paris; "Scaramouche" by Rafael Sabatini; several books in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series are set in Paris; and of course parts of Herman Wouk's "The Winds of War" is set in Paris.

    There are many more books, but I can't think right now. If you haven't read these books and authors, I highly recommend them.

  15. OK, I know this is going to sound crazy, but I ate almost everything and ended up losing seven pounds! (Well, not everything, I eschewed sweets for espresso...) I think it was all the walking I did -- probably eight miles per day? Also, the French portions are proper -- small to Americans. So, yes, I had a croissant and cafe au lait every morning, but it was about a third of the size of the croissant you'd get in NYC.... I went to a lot of great restaurants and met lovely people and had great conversations! Standout meals were crepes with in-season white asparagus, steak frite (hey, I'm anemic!), and a duck salad. Oh, and I had a mini-mini ice cream cone on the Ile St. Louis. Tres petit. And in-season strawberries!

  16. Susan, I LOVE your photos. And your research trip was just exactly the sort of things I do in London. I love Paris, too, and am past due for a visit. Although, like Hallie, I tend to amble from one cafe to another...

    Many favorite books set in Paris, many already mentioned, especially Cara's Aimee Leduc series, but my favorite book set in Paris EVER is Hemingway's A Moveable Feast. It's on my "Everyone Must Read" list.

  17. Definitely A Tale of Two Cities. Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston series. There are certainly others, but darned if I can think of them.

  18. Susan, I love that you find that something that serves as a catalyst for each Maggie Hope book. One of my favorite things about these books is that you somehow make them seem personal to the reader, and that comes from this personal connection of yours. You have a reverence and respect for the places and people that is evident. Your dedication to research always enriches the stories, too, and I learn so much. I also enjoy your FB posts of history behind the scenes, which make history come alive.

    I am such an Anglophile that a Paris setting doesn't usually initiate my interest in a book. However, having said that, when I read a book set in Paris, it seems I end up delighted with the setting. And, when it is my favorite characters in Paris, well, that is definitely something to look forward to. Rhys' Molly in City of Darkness and Light and Laurie King's Harris Stuyvesant in The Bones of Paris were amazing reads. Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston series set in Paris is one I desperately want to catch up on. I've only read The Bookseller, but I thought it was fantastic. And, speaking of catching up, I so want to get to Cara Black's series. So much great reading that is always waiting.

  19. I need to get back to Paris soon! It's been too long. But my time in Hong Kong was spent largely with my favorite Paris friends! Fortunately I have a couple of good French friends here in Berkeley and can keep my French up - even if the slang probably sounds dated! Yes, I like the Cara Black series. A friend put me on to them about ten years ago.

  20. I love these photos. That fashion show must have been sublime!

    Favorite Parisian novel? Cousin Bette. It was assigned in college and at the time I didn't quite appreciate it but it's one I keep coming back to.

  21. I read in a bio of Elsa Schiaparelli that she spent almost all of WW2 in New York (unlike Coco Chanel) and was definitely there in 1942 and not in Paris, so I'm a bit confused about the dress you showed.

  22. Congratulations Susan on your new book

    Love all the photos you posted and Lola is adorable

  23. Wow, that symbol really is something else! It gave me chills!

  24. Just one word: Modiano.

    Two words: Patrick Modiano.

    Three words: Nobel Prize winner.

    And about all you'll ever need to read about Paris during the Occupation.