Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Interview with Paulita Kincer, author of The Summer of France

Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels, The Summer of FranceI See London I See Franceand Trail Mix. She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children.

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Author Interview

Can you tell us what your book is about? 

 Fia, a 40-year-old mom from Ohio, didn’t bet on being pulled into her great-Uncle Martin’s intrigue from World War II, but when she travels to the South of France with her husband and 14-year-old twins to run a bed and breakfast, she finds herself fighting to undo her uncle’s errors from the past. The book is told through Fia’s viewpoint as she revels in French culture and tries to draw her family closer, but instead finds her children and husband gallivanting around the country and wrenching away from each other. Uncle Martin also shares his remembrances of traveling from Kentucky to Europe at age 17 to fight in World War II. While he battled in Italy, he made a decision -- a mistake – and has regretted it every day since. 

Why did you write your book? 

I’m always searching for books about France that have adventure and rich details about the culture – the salads with squares of melting goat cheese, the rhythm of the language in rich throaty sounds, the cobblestone streets that the workers hose off every morning. I figured other people must love the same kind of novel. Writing about characters who travel to France and fall in love with the country, for me, is nearly as good as hopping on a plane and walking out onto the Champs-Elysées. 

Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters? 

The main character, Fia, has recently turned 40 years old and lost her job as a reporter. She and her husband, Grayson, have grown apart, and she sees her 14-year-olds’ childhood slipping away. She longs for an adventure, but has no idea how to find it until her uncle calls from France and suggests she run his bed and breakfast for the summer. She imagines an idyllic stay in France with all of them growing closer, but Uncle Martin’s secret throws the whole family into turmoil. 

Uncle Martin grew up in Kentucky as the youngest in a large farming family. He never had a new pair of shoes until he snuck off to join the army at 17, where he fought in World War II. After he was wounded in Italy, he met a French nurse, Lucie, who later became his wife. He settled in France, and eventually they turned the family homestead into a bed & breakfast. Although childless, family means everything to Martin and Lucie, but Martin can’t let his wife realize the mistake he made as a soldier. He can’t bear to see her detest him for his past actions. 

Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination? 

Both! My characters come from my imagination, but I often picture someone as I start writing the character, but the character’s actions soon set him/her apart from the person I started with. 

Fia, the main character, definitely has some of my characteristics – that longing for adventure, that antsy feeling about life passing without making a difference, but she makes many decisions I wouldn’t. 

The Uncle Martin character is partially based on my uncle, Luther, who fought in World War II in Italy and was wounded twice. But, unlike Uncle Martin, he came home from the war and married a wonderful American woman. 

The Frenchman Christophe in my novel is pure fantasy. But, he was inspired by Gilles Marini, who played Samantha’s sexy, next-door neighbor when she lived in California in the movie Sex and the City, and he also danced on Dancing With the Stars. Every novel about France needs a sexy love interest! 

Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel or do you discover it as you write? 

I always think I know the plot before I begin a novel, but it rarely goes the way I think it will. Those characters keep going off in directions that I hadn’t anticipated. If I try to make them stick to my plan, I find it isn’t nearly as interesting. I usually try to have a jumping off point and then I try to let the characters’ decisions lead the action. 

Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story? 

Definitely. I’ve written two books set in France and I’m working on a third one. My other published novel is set on the Appalachian Trail in the Eastern United States, so in all my novels the place is definitely a main character. Taking people from a familiar setting to a new place helps make them uncomfortable so they may do things they normally wouldn’t. 

Have you suffered from writer’s block and what do you do to get back on track? 

I don’t think I have writer’s block, but I definitely am guilty of avoiding my story. Once I start writing, I enjoy it, but everyday life can definitely keep me away from my computer. I have three kids, and it seems like they take up more of my time now that they’re nearly grown up then they did as toddlers. 

Setting a definite time to write helps. 

Planning to meet with friends to write is another good tactic. 

If you’re alone and have no idea what to write, go back and read some of your most recent writings; that will probably spark some new ideas and before you know it, you’ll be past that block. 

What do you like the most about being an author? 

When I read, I love connecting to an emotion, when an author expresses something in such an original way that I have felt before, it makes me feel like I’ve been panning for jewels and one appears before me. That’s what I hope readers get from my writing. They’ll find a gem, a “Eureka!” moment, between the covers of my novels. And I love hearing from readers who connect with my characters. My novels generally deal with family, and I know that the women who read my novels may be sick of their kids and a little bored with their husbands, and it’s good to remind them, and myself, that life ebbs and flows. Kids are the best thing ever and a terrible headache, depending on the day. And that same husband who seems not to notice might come home early one day for a lovely dinner out or to give a stay-at-home mother some alone time. Too bad they don’t come home with adventures in France more often! 

What is the most pivotal point of a writer’s life? 

I would say that writers need to live interesting lives, but it doesn’t matter how many adventures they have if they don’t sit down to write about them. So make time to write and remember to share the beauty or the fear or the anger so readers can connect to the emotion. 

What kind of advice would you give other fiction authors? 

Read! I’m so inspired by other writers. Sometimes I want to crawl inside a sentence that describes a delicious meal with crusty, still-warm bread or the temptation of sparkling lights across a pond, or the rippling muscles of a luscious man. That inspiration convinces me to try harder in my own writing.

About The Book

TitleThe Summer of France
Author: Paulita Kincer
Publisher: Oblique Presse
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Format: Paperback / eBook / PDF
Pages: 255
ISBN: 978-1300257332
Genre: Women's Fiction / Travel / Adventure

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Book Description:

When Fia Jennings loses her job at the local newspaper, she thinks she'll have the chance to bond with her teenage twins. As she realizes she may be too late to create the perfect family, she's saved by a phone call from her great Uncle Martin who operates a bed and breakfast in Provence. Uncle Martin wants Fia to venture to France to run the B&B so he and his wife Lucie can travel. He doesn't tell Fia about the secret he hid in the house when he married Lucie after fighting in World War II, and he doesn't mention the people who are tapping his phone and following him, hoping to find the secret.

Book Excerpt:


The quiet of the house mocked me as I rummaged through the Sunday paper looking for the travel pages. I ignored the meticulously folded “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper and the yellow highlighter that my husband had placed on the counter to remind me that I’d been unemployed for two months and needed to find a job – soon. The ring of the kitchen phone saved me from isolation and from a job search as the thick accent of my aunt came across the crackly line inviting me to move to France.
After a few sentences in the language that Aunt Lucie considered English, she handed the phone to my great uncle Martin, and I heard his booming voice.
“Fia?” he called as if using a bullhorn rather than a telephone.  Uncle Martin, the baby of my grandfather’s family, ventured overseas as a teenager to fight in World War II, found a French wife, and stayed.
I’d never traveled to France to visit him, but Uncle Martin always came home for the family reunion at the beginning of summer.
Hearing his voice on the phone, I glanced at the wall calendar, assuring myself it was late June and Uncle Martin’s visit had ended nearly two weeks before.
“Uncle Martin! What a surprise. How’s life in France?” I asked in a quiet voice meant to encourage him to lower his volume.
Uncle Martin continued to bellow. “Look, Fia, let me get right to the point.” He hadn’t lost his American directness.  “Lucie and I are tired.
We need a break, maybe a permanent break.”
“What?” I gasped my voice growing louder to match his. “You and Aunt Lucie are…but you can’t be…you can’t break up?”
“No,” I heard his old man grunt across the phone lines. It sounded as if he said something like “Zut!”
“Listen. Don’t jump to conclusions,” he chastised me. “We’re tired of working so hard. We’re old and it doesn’t look like any of Lucie’s relatives are gonna step forward and take over. That’s why I’m calling. Will you and Grayson come over and run this place?”
“This place” is what Uncle Martin always called the eight-room bed and breakfast that he and Aunt Lucie ran in a small village in Provence. Lucie’s family had owned the home for generations, wringing olive oil from the trees and wine from the grape vines. But as big cities and ample education called, the younger branches of the family moved away. When Uncle Martin and Aunt Lucie found themselves the only ones living in the big, old house during the 1970s, they decided to capitalize on a tourism boom and turned the house into a bed and breakfast. They encouraged American and English tourists to stay, and, after A Year in Provence came out in 1990, their business exploded with people who wanted to see the land that Peter Mayle described.
“We thought you could take over,” Uncle Martin blared, “obviously, since you’re not working.”
Thanks, Uncle Martin, for reminding me again of my current jobless status.  When a huge conglomerate bought our local newspaper and combined resources with the paper in the next town, I became superfluous. So, after years of writing about home design, I sat staring at my own shoddy decorating. I tried to look on the bright side. Now I actually had time to try some of those design tips. To add depth to the alcove next to the fireplace, I painted it a darker color. Next I added crown molding around the opening from the living room to the dining room.
So far, mostly, I spent my time trying to stay positive so an amazing job would find me, and I watched cable TV shows about happy families. Who knew The Waltons was on five times a day? Mix that with the Duggars, that family with 19 kids on TLC, and my days just flew past. I slowly realized that driving my kids to sporting events and extracurricular lessons did not count as quality time. Inspired by those TV families, I amplified my efforts to pull my 14-year-old twins closer. When they ambled home from school, I’d suggest some family activities. “Let’s draw a hopscotch on the driveway!” I’d say. Their eyes rolled wildly in their heads like horses about to bolt. “How about making homemade bread together? We can all take turns kneading? Or maybe an old fashioned whiffle ball game in the backyard?”
They suggested we go out for pizza or visit a sporting goods store for new soccer cleats or swim goggles. I declined, picturing the credit card bills I juggled now that I didn’t have an income.
Bills. Ooh! I couldn’t see Uncle Martin’s invitation to France winning approval from my husband, Grayson, who had just been complaining about money.
As a two-income family, we had paid bills on time and planned our next extravagant purchase. Of course, my pragmatic husband, the almost accountant, never used credit cards. But with my own income, I wasn’t that concerned about using credit cards. When I started to run a balance, I made the minimum payment every month. No need to inform Grayson who would’ve disapproved of my indulgences. Not that I bought things for myself. Nothing but the best for our kids with their private swim clubs, technologically engineered swimsuits, travel soccer teams, and state-of-the-art skateboards. I hadn’t bothered to save for an emergency but spent and charged as I went along until the bottom dropped out of journalism.
“Uncle Martin, you know we’ve always dreamed of visiting you and Aunt Lucie, but without a job now, I just… I can’t see it working financially.”
“I’m not talking about a visit,” his voice grew agitated. “I’m talking about you moving in here and running the bed and breakfast. I’d send the plane fare to get you here. You, Grayson and the twins.”
I sat stunned for a moment, so Uncle Martin repeated himself.
“I’ll send you the tickets. I’ll just buy them online for you, Grayson and the twins. Both of them.”
My kids were always “the twins,” as if sharing a womb 14 years earlier made them one entity for the rest of their lives.
“Whoa. That is heavy stuff,” I slid onto the swiveling bar stool. “We can’t just move. Leave our house, school, Grayson’s job.”
Even as I said it, I felt hope rising in my chest. Yes! I waited for a job to come to me and it did. A spectacular opportunity. I pictured myself in a flowing skirt and low-heeled, leather sandals walking along a dusty road away from the market that would line the village streets. I’d carry a canvas bag with French bread jutting from the top as I headed home, the pungent fragrance of a cheese wafting from the bottom of the bag. Although I’d never been to France, I watched any sunny movie set in Europe. The women always wore skirts and had leisure time to linger along the roadside, smelling the lavender.
I heard the front door slam and my husband’s heavy footfall in his casual Sunday topsiders as he came in from the office. Even on a Sunday, the work at Grayson’s accounting firm was plentiful.
I turned my back on my approaching husband and said into the phone, “When are you thinking, Uncle Martin?”
“I’m thinking… NOW. Last week,” Uncle Martin’s voice rose again. I cupped my hand over the phone to try to smother the sound of his bellowing. “I’m tired of dealing with these snippy tourists. I want to roam around the world and give other innkeepers a hard time.”
“You make the job sound so enticing,” I tried to laugh lightly so Grayson, who was drawing nearer, wouldn’t realize the importance of this conversation. The idea began to form in the back of my mind: We could make this happen -- with a little cooperation. I shot a hopeful glance toward Grayson as he walked in the room. I quickly raised my eyebrows twice, which I thought should give him an indication that good news was on the phone. He looked grim and tired – the horizontal line between his own eyebrows resembled a recently plowed furrow.
“Look, I’ll have to call you back later,” I hissed into the phone and punched the button to hang up as Grayson threw his aluminum briefcase on the island. His look turned from grim to suspicious.
“Uncle Martin,” I said with a blasé wave toward the phone. “He has a business proposal…”
I tried to sound nonchalant, but I guess my eagerness showed because Grayson dropped his head on top of his briefcase for just a minute before he stepped toward the cabinet over the refrigerator. He opened the door and pulled down a bottle of Scotch.
This conversation might prove more difficult than I’d anticipated.

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Paulita said...

Thanks so much for interviewing me for today's post. I really appreciate it.

Anne in Oxfordshire said...

Hi , This is a brilliant interview. Thank you for sharing with us. I have not met Paulita yet but have been following her blog An Accidental Blog for quite awhile. I have read all three of her books ,all different and all brilliant.They have aspects of real life in them, which I am sure all the readers can relate too. Trail Mix was a great one for me. Certainly have challenges in that women face each day . Big Thank you to Paulita. Cannot wait for her next one :-)