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Interview: April 5, 2012

PARIS IN LOVE is Eloisa James’s memoir of going on a year-long sabbatical from her job as a Shakespeare professor and moving with her family to Paris. In this interview, conducted by Co-Founder Carol Fitzgerald, James talks about what went into the huge decision to pack up her loved ones and head overseas. She offers advice to those who are seeking similar adventures, shares some of her favorite things about the City of Light, and gives a glimpse into her next book. Packing up the family and heading overseas for a year is no small decision. Were there any moments where you had doubts about what you were doing, or was it full-steam ahead from the start?

Eloisa James: For me, every parenting decision gives me misgivings. But I would rather feel doubt over how my daughter will adjust to life in Paris than whether I should push her to take soccer lessons in addition to cello on Thursdays.

BRC: You spend part of each summer in Italy where your husband is from. Did those visits make it easier to plan to move overseas for a year?

EJ: Absolutely! I already knew that big European cities aren’t terribly frightening. They’re full of people who speak English, not to mention American ex-pats. It’s very helpful to know that.

BRC: Was Paris the only place you considered living for this sabbatical? If not, what other cities were under consideration?  

EJ: We thought about cities with Italian schools, because our children are bilingual and the Italian government sponsors excellent free schools. Barcelona was another possibility, but my vote was for Paris.

BRC: Did you leave for Paris with a plan to turn the story of this sabbatical year into a memoir?

EJ: No. All this writing was purely serendipitous.

BRC: What are three things that you miss most about Paris?

EJ: The chocolate, the light, the time --- or rather, the lovely way that Parisians savor their days rather than dashing through them.

BRC: The book is structured with both original essays and blog posts. Did you envision writing the book like this from the start? What made you shape it this way?

EJ: When I was in elementary school, my father (the poet, Robert Bly) was working on prose poems. So mastering a very short form of prose, even if my snippets had no comparison to his poetry, was an exercise in affection. I wanted this book to have a sense of small but vivid pleasures, and therefore I resisted turning it into a traditional narrative.

BRC: You are a New York Times bestselling author of romance novels. What was different for you about penning a memoir rather than fiction?

EJ: The most obvious answer is that memoir is true. When I’m writing novels, anything can happen. I may be writing along and my hero will suddenly announce that he’s afraid of the dark. Memoir is also about writing a story, but there aren’t any surprises there.

BRC: You write quite humorously about your husband and children. Are they good sports about this, or are there rolled eyes and “gifts” in exchange for their starring roles?

EJ: My son Luca (now 17) vetted every single mention of his name. Alessandro and Anna are celebratory, and have had many a lively conversation about who should play them if a movie were made (Alessandro votes for Johnny Depp).

BRC: How tough was it coming back to the States after living abroad? Besides free time to explore, what do you miss the most?

EJ: I am the sort of person who looks forward to the next adventure, and moving to New York City is an adventure in anyone’s book. One thing I do miss is the relative isolation. Here, we are lucky enough to have many invitations to see people whom we adore, and want to see: in Paris, our circle of acquaintances was small, which was also rather wonderful.

BRC: If you could take another sabbatical year with the children, where would you want to head? How about if it was just you and Alessandro?

EJ: London! Alessandro wants to go to Moscow. He’s going alone if he does that…

BRC: For others pondering the same kind of a lifestyle change, what three things do you think they need to keep in mind?

EJ: First, don’t allow fear to stop you from an adventure. Second, children are far more resilient than people think; when your family travels, they will learn that the world is a wide and wonderful place. And finally, don’t spend all your time (or even much of your time) being a tourist. Sit in a café and watch the world passing by. Be joyful rather than learned.

BRC: What are you working on now, and when can readers expect to see it?

EJ: My next novel is THE UGLY DUCHESS, which publishes in September. Right now I’m working on a version of Rapunzel, although I’m stymied by her hair. Once I figure out how my hero can actually climb that sort of ladder, the novel should come out in 2013.