Hello All! Today I'll be interviewing the author of The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte, Jennie Goutet. She's also the author of Stars Upside Down, her memoir. It will be on sale through this week for only $0.99 ... you can pick up a copy here! She's going to mention this later on in the interview, but I want to let you know RIGHT NOW in case you're reading this five seconds before it goes off sale. ;)
Hello, Jennie! Welcome to Reveries Reviews! Let's get on with the Q&A.
Why did you originally want to become a writer? Did you start writing when you were little, or did you start when you were older?
I wrote a short novelette in 7th grade, called “Pigtails to Lipstick”, but as it contained some veiled allusions of my friends’ poor treatment of me, it was not met with rave reviews. I think my career as a writer started when I began my blog, A Lady in France, seven years ago (originally under the title, Perfect Welcome). That’s when I gained confidence in my ability as I saw that people liked what I wrote, I received a few awards, and I was published on larger sites. It’s also when I started writing with some regularity.
What was the first (not necessarily published) thing you wrote?
If we don’t count the half-finished manuscripts – (ten chapters in, and my husband says, “But it’s boring! Nothing happens!”) – I suppose the first thing would be my illustrated children’s book, Happy People Everywhere, which I wrote for my ESL students when I was teaching in Taiwan. I did eventually publish it, and it’s available on Amazon.
But what I consider to be my first real manuscript (MS) is the one I actually finished: my memoir, called Stars Upside Down: a memoir of travel, grief, and an incandescent God. I learned how to write a full-length book in this memoir, and as the plot was already in place (my life), I only needed to work on the phrasing and flow from one scene to the next. This gave me a much-needed boost in my ability to finish something. I stored the draft in a file on my computer called, “Final Attempt” as I told myself that if I didn’t finish this book, I would abandon all dreams of being a writer.
The memoir’s first title was Life in the Trenches, with the suggested change to my blog name, A Lady in France, under which it was published in 2013. I finally edited the entire thing and republished it in January, cutting about 50,000 words, and abridging it to what it is today – a change I felt necessary as I grew as a writer. I also changed the title to more accurately represent the faith element and am happy to have taken this step, even if it meant starting over with reviews, etc.
What's your current writing project?
I am about 16,000 words into my Regency novel (out of an expected 90,000). I wanted to write Regency straight away, and The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte is inspired by this era (classical language, a peer, a chateau, a pure love story, and (sometimes) a mystery standing in the way of happily ever after).
I was too afraid to write Regency for my first novel, that I couldn’t pull it off with historical accuracy and authentic dialogue. Now – after much research – I’m taking the plunge. I’ve studied Georgian and Regency architecture, the habits of Almack’s (an exclusive club at the time), the Peninsular Wars, central London at the time, the expressions, dress code, and proper forms of address. The list goes on. Of course, in the end, it’s all about likeable characters and interesting plot. But if it can be authentic at the same time, I’ll have no cause to blush.
How much planning/outlining do you do before you start writing a novel?
I usually write a couple of chapters with the barest whisper of a story so I can get a feel for the characters, language and setting. After that, I need to bring all writing to a halt and spend a few hours mapping out the plot, chapter by chapter. I then write the first draft, and end up shifting, cutting, and adding content before having something I’m ready to show other writers to get their feedback. I love thorough critique, and the resulting changes in my MS show how seriously I take them into account.
Where do you write when you're at home?
I work from a cheap desk in the living room for the moment, but when our house renovations are done, I’ll have my own office in my daughter’s bedroom downstairs (the basement part of our split-level house). My husband did create an office for me in the studio on our property, but I found I didn’t like to be away from the house. I like to be available for kids, and stirring food from time to time as it cooks. Of course, that usually means I’m writing while my two sons are fighting with toy swords and my daughter is showing me her new hairstyle. We mothers are nothing, if not multi-taskers.
What inspires you when you're stuck?
Reading Georgette Heyer, hands down. Her stories are so witty, her characters so brilliant, and it’s just the period to inspire me as most of her books are set in the Regency or Georgian period. Of course, I’ve devoured many of the classics (Dickens, Austen, Hardy, Twain, Dostoevsky, etc.) but Heyer has more of a modern-day pacing, which is just what I need. That’s why I read her books again and again. They usually make me want to rush off and work on my own.
Do you have a favorite character from The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte? Was he/she inspired by someone in real life?
I have two, and both are inspired by real life. One is Maude – Chastity’s best friend. She looks and acts like a very dear friend of mine from church – Alberte. I told her about it, but she can’t read English well enough to appreciate the story. The other is Jean-François (Jef) who is based on my brother-in-law. He’s a professional actor, and I always thought that if my story could be made into a movie, he could claim his part. He also has that rebel-to-society / loyal-to-friends thing going on. Unfortunately, he also can’t read my book because of the English.
When you started writing The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte, did you intend to publish it? Was publishing exciting for you or just plain scary?
Even though I had published a memoir, I was still unsure about my ability to finish and publish a novel because that meant coming up with a workable plot. (Not my strongest point). When I began writing it, I put a chapter a week up on my blog to force myself not to give up when the plot got difficult. In a sense, I was fully intending to publish as I wrote it. But I was still scared I wouldn’t be able to, and only gained confidence when I finished the first draft. Even for my current WIP (work-in-progress) I won’t be fully confident until I get to the end, and I sometimes put snippets on my blog just to stay … published, so to speak. It’s hard to be silent for a year while you work on something, with no encouragement from your readers. This is my way of keeping at it.
Do you have anything to say in closing?
Mainly, thank you, Kellyn! I so appreciate your review and interview, and just having you interested in my work enough to feature it. And I can’t resist putting a plug in for my memoir in case some of your readers are interested in reading stories about faith. Stars Upside Down is on sale this week through Sunday. Kindle copies on Amazon US and UK for just .99.
Here is the summary:
At seventeen, Jennie Goutet has a dream that she will one day marry a French man and sets off to Avignon in search of him. Though her dream eludes her, she lives boldly--teaching in Asia, studying in Paris, working and traveling for an advertising firm in New York.
When God calls her, she answers reluctantly, and must first come to grips with depression, crippling loss, and addiction before being restored. Providence takes her by the hand as she marries her French husband, works with him in a humanitarian effort in East Africa, before settling down in France and building a family.
Told with honesty and strength, Stars Upside Down is a brave, heart-stopping story of love, grief, faith, depression, sunshine piercing the gray clouds--and hope that stays in your heart long after it's finished.
About Jennie Goutet
Jennie Goutet is the author of romance novel, The Viscount of Maisons-Laffitte, as well as the award-winning memoir, Stars Upside Down, and the children's book Happy People Everywhere. She is a contributing author to Sunshine After the Storm, and That's Paris - an Anthology of Love, Life and Sarcasm in Paris. She was a BlogHer Voice of the Year pick three times, and her writing has appeared on Huffington Post, Queen Latifah's website, Mamalode, BonBonBreak, and BlogHer.
You can find her on her author website, jenniegoutet.com, or her blog, aladyinfrance.com, where she writes occasionally about faith, food, and life in Paris with her husband and three children.