I am always looking for a sweet escape in the summer and this month I read a beautiful book called, “A Paris Apartment,” by Michelle Gable. I call books that send me hours afterward looking up images and more information on the “true” stories, my narnia-books. This is one of those books because after I finished the last pages, I was dying to look up what was real and what had been fictionalized for this book. I spent hours flipping through photos and reading the backstory on these characters which made my bookworm heart oh-so-happy.
When I finished it and shared the story with my husband, he remarked that we had heard this same story of this apartment in the car one day while listening to NPR. Of course, I immediately ran to my computer to look up the images of the real Paris apartment and it brought even more depth and life to the story that I had read.
A Paris Apartment is a fun summer historical fiction escape to Paris alternating between present day and the past. It centers around, April, a furniture specialist with Sothebys, & diary entries from the late 1800’s & 1900’s of Marthe de Florian. It weaves a beautiful story around a Paris apartment that had been shuttered for 70 years and the what lies behind the treasures in her apartment, including the relationship between her & the famous painter Giovanni Boldini, told through these diary entries.
As April becomes more & more fascinated with this woman through her diary, she increasingly becomes unsure if she wants to return to her own life back in the states or to continue living her own life in Paris, caught in the beauty of Paris and the escape from her own difficult marriage.
I would say that it is just enough fluff to pack in your beach bag and enough meat to enjoy reading the backstory on Marthe after closing those final pages. I believe it to be a solid debut novel and I could not wait to talk with Michelle about this book and share it with you all!
I sent off a message to Michelle to see if she might like to join me for Sundays With Writers. She sweetly said that she knew my website and been on it before. I messaged her back and told her that if she was trying to sweet talk me, she succeeded and I was now her number one fan. She honestly replied that she had read my interview with Maggie Shipstead and would be honored to be featured on MomAdvice too.
And then I died and and fainted from the happiness..
I knew though that I must come back to life to share this interview.
I mean, really?!
How can we not love Michelle and race out to get her book right now?
Let’s chat with Michelle about her exciting first novel!
Wow, after reading your book I truly felt like I got to visit Paris, which has been a dream of mine! Since this is the setting for your book, did you spend a lot of time there before or while you wrote this novel?
I’m so glad the book felt like an escape! That’s fantastic to hear…thank you!
I’ve been to Paris several times and am headed there this summer, but I did not go specifically to research this book. However, I was in Paris when my agent called to say my editor was interested in acquiring it!
The most impressive part of this book is, what I imagine, the extensive research that went into both April’s profession (as a furniture expert) as well as the intricately woven story of Marthe de Florian & Giovanni Boldini that you have created for your reader. How did you gather this information and how much time does this take as a writer working in the historical fiction genre?
I spent a good four to six months researching, almost as much time as the actual writing of the novel. The shuttered-for-seventy-years apartment in the book really existed, however not much is known about the home or its former residents. So researching the apartment itself was not very time-consuming but I spent months researching the time period, the people who might’ve known the courtesan who once lived there, and the events and issues they would’ve been concerned with.
As you point out, April’s profession also required a ton of research. “Sotheby’s Continental Furniture Expert” is just about as far away from my daily life as you can get! I spent a lot of time looking through Sotheby’s catalogues (an area I became totally lost in) and interviewing people who worked there. It was very gratifying to read a review from an industry insider who said the book “felt like a memoir.”
For the historical sections, I used pretty much everything! The internet, interviews, old newspaper articles, books, including several that were over fifty years out of print. I had great fun reading the gossip columns of the day—most of the performers and incidents in the historical parts of the book really existed. Yes, there was a famous farter!
I’ve always loved research and often have force myself to get started on the book already. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of information because you can always uncover one more fact, learn the history of one more person. Probably only about five percent of what I learn makes it into a book, but I have fun with one hundred percent of it. And often little tidbits I pick up are stored in my “future novel” file.
Marthe is a character that I think people would either love or hate, especially as you learn more and more about her through the book. Could you relate to Marthe in any way especially as she struggles to climb up the social ladder?
Funnily enough, people have responded well to Marthe. It’s Sotheby’s expert April who seems to draw the strongest love/hate reactions! She is a controversial character by design.
As for Marthe, she certainly makes questionable decisions and though I can’t relate to most of her struggles I did find her sections the easiest to write…by far! Her pages almost came out of me fully-formed so I joke that perhaps I was a courtesan in a past life.
I do think her feelings of wanting love and belonging are universal. And as someone approaching 40, I can understand her fear of getting older, even if I don’t need to trade on my looks for my job!
When leafing through the actual photos of the apartment, was there anything that you wish that you could take home with you, like the fictional April (who was gifted the Mickey Mouse) did? I know for me, I would want that stuffed ostrich for a statement piece in our home!
I love this question and have to agree…the ostrich for sure! I adore the Mickey Mouse doll too because he makes for such an interesting juxtaposition against the rest of it. This was the home of someone with considerable wealth. It was filled with antiques that, although quite valuable, are not recognizable to most people. But the Mickey Mouse is identifiable to all, no matter your background.
One of my biggest struggles as a blogger is coming up with an idea before all my friends begin pinning it from someone else on Pinterest. I understand that you had actually come up with the concept of this book before the photos of the real Paris apartment went viral. Were you worried that this might affect sales (positively or negatively) since people were starting to discover the story on their own?
It was so crazy how that happened! My sister emailed me on New Year’s Day with a link to some of the photos. She said “this reminds me of the apartment from your book.” And of course it was the apartment from my book!
By then A Paris Apartment was mostly done, the cover finalized, and the Advanced Reader Copies had already gone to print. I have no idea why it suddenly went viral this year in a way it did not in 2010, which is when I first read about it. Maybe because social media is so much bigger now? Amy Poehler was tweeting about it!
It felt very fortuitous. The only thing that would’ve been better was if it happened closer to my publication date! The news definitely increased attention for my book. I went from getting ones of hits on my website per day to thousands. It also resulted in a flurry of blog posts and stories and self-published books, all a positive for A Paris Apartment. People seem fascinated by the topic, just as I was, and generally when you’re really into something you’re going to read more than one piece on the subject.
So, if anything, the widespread interest helps. In my opinion, a debut author’s biggest threat is obscurity, not other people writing about the same topic!
As a first time novelist, what has surprised you most about the process of publishing your first book? Any words of advice for someone who is on this path towards publishing?
The time requirement for the marketing has been the most unexpected. Blog tours, physical tours…it all chews up so much more time than I ever contemplated. The touring (online and physical) is my favorite because I love connecting real-time with readers, but—wow—I really underestimated that piece of it. It’s been two months since my book came out and I only recently started writing again.
In terms of advice, it’s all about persistence, patience, and faith. You have to be willing to finish this novel, then write the next one, and then the one after that. I swore to myself I’d keep writing and writing until one finally took. The waiting and rejection can be brutal, but it is worth it.
Since your first novel is a historical fiction novel, do you plan to stay within this genre for your next book?
The novel I’m working on is similar in that it has a modern storyline as well as several historical ones. The current book was actually inspired by research I did on the Boldini paintings while writing A Paris Apartment. I’m very excited about it.
If you could tell anyone to read one book (other than your own) what would that book be?
I recommend Father of the Rain by Lily King to everyone. It is the perfect book. She has a historical novel that came out recently called Euophoria and I can’t wait to read it. That’s another thing that’s fallen to the wayside lately… I’ve gone from reading 2-3 books per week to reading one if I’m lucky!
You can connect with Michelle Gable on Facebook or on her website! I’m always thankful for these moments with writers and I hope you will pick up this amazing book! You can always connect with me on GoodReads,through our books section of our site, and you can read our entire Sundays With Writers series for more author profiles. Happy reading, friends!
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