A Visit from Ellen Sussman – French Lessons

It’s an exciting day today, as I have the great pleasure to welcome Ellen Sussman to my blog as she gads about the internet telling folks about her latest novel, French Lessons, which I have read and reviewed here.

Ellen currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, but has travelled widely. Her first novel, On a Night Like This, was a San Francisco Chronicle Bestseller and she has also edited several anthologies and had a dozen of her short stories published. Ellen has had a number of jobs, including tennis instructor and restaurant manager but has always been a writer. Alongside her writing, Ellen teaches through Stanford Continuing Studies and in private classes out of her home.

Many thanks to those of you who sent questions and just a quick reminder that you can see Ellen’s other blog stops on the sidebar.

Welcome Ellen, over to you…

Your biography says that while you’ve had a varied working life, you’ve always been writing. What gave you the impetus to make writing your career?

I’m not sure quite how it happened but I made the decision at age 6! And even more shockingly, I never budged from that career choice! I figured out after college that I needed a day job and teaching (first on the university level and then to adults) became that day job. But it’s always taken a back seat to my writing. I truly need to write to be happy. It’s a very tough career – one needs to be incredibly stubborn and persistent and cocky. I must be good at those traits because I never gave up, despite many many rejection letters over the years.

French Lessons is set in Paris, which is quite vividly described. If you had to take a walk similar to that of your characters which places would you definitely include?

I actually created those walks based on my favorite walks in Paris. I lived in Paris for five years, almost twenty years ago, and I visit often. Each time I find myself walking in those same areas – because I love the sights, the strolls, the people-watching and the full immersion into the Paris experience.

You’ve had an extremely varied working life – what would you say you’ve brought from your other professions into your writing?

Interestingly, playing tennis helped shaped my career as a writer. I played tournament tennis in high school and then played for my university. I learned about discipline, about daily practice, about devotion to one thing. All of that matters tremendously in a writing career.

Are there any characters that you’ve come across while working in your various roles that have made it into your books?

Yes! I worked as a manager in a restaurant — and so I made my main character in my first novel a chef in a restaurant. Some of the characters are based on the folks I knew in those days. In French Lessons, I made Josie a high school teacher — I taught in a private high school for a year. And yes, I borrowed from that world as well. Riley was born from my own experiences as an ex-pat living in Paris – but I never had the hot french tutor!

While there are sex scenes in French Lessons, it’s not the main driver in the story – what’s your take on the ’50 Shades’ and ‘Mommy Porn’ phenomenon??

I’m so surprised by this phenomenon – but I actually think it’s probably good for readers (who have been uptight about sex scenes until now) and good for writers (who have often skipped writing the sex scenes!). I think sex scenes are important in a novel – because what happens in the bedroom matters. It reveals a great deal about the characters, the relationship, each person’s sense of themselves and their sexuality. I only include a sex scene when it adds to the story – it either moves the story forward (as in Riley’s big moment) or it’s a chance to reveal the characters in a much deeper way.

What’s your opinion of Fan Fiction? Josie, Riley and Jeremy obviously move forward in their lives after the story ends. Would you feel pleased or annoyed if someone wanted to continue their stories?

I had never even heard of the phenomenon until 50 Shades – it’s such an odd thing! But, hey, if someone felt like living in my characters’ lives for awhile, and putting in onto the page, I’d be flattered!

You lived in Paris for some time – would you need a French tutor to go back there? Which of your tutors would you choose?

Ha! I’d choose Nico and I’d fall for him in a big way.

Many thanks for your time today, Ellen.

French Lessons is now available to buy in the UK, including in Kindle format.

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