Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Week With An Author - Carolyn Moncel - Interview - September 7, 2011

WEEK WITH AN AUTHOR - Carolyn Moncel!

I am happy to have Carolyn Moncel, author of 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover, on Black Diamond's Book Reviews for the entire week!

I am also glad to share my interview with her today!

Carolyn Moncel Interview

About Your Book:

5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other Short Stories:

How did you come up with the title?

CDM: I have told this story before but it is true. One day I was walking down the street in Lausanne and I heard Paul Simon’s song, “50 Ways to Leave a Lover,” blasting from someone’s care radio. I thought, “That song only gets it half right: there are many ways to leave a lover but the reasons for leaving in the first place are pretty finite. A person leaves (voluntary or involuntary) because circumstances make it impossible to stay. The most notable reasons are deceit, infidelity, abuse, indifference and death. All five of these reasons are represented in the book; three are found in the novella and one in each short story.

Is there a message in the book that you want readers to get?

CDM: Relationships cannot be taken for granted because you never know how long they will last.

Are any parts of 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other Short Stories realistic?

CDM: It’s a very realistic collection but not necessarily based on my personal life. I take my inspiration from everywhere -- including the media, stories that I have heard from friends, even situations that I have observed. For example, former North Carolina governor Mark Sanford’s story was a huge inspiration, especially the idea that his Argentinian mistress was his soul mate. Also Paris is a great place to people watch. A lot of this collection is based on a conversation that I overheard between two strangers. Apparently, the man had just learned of his wife’s infidelity and he wanted everyone in that restaurant to know about it!

Did you have a favorite character in 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other Short Stories, and why did you like that character?

CDM: Despite his very bad behavior at times, I have to say that I still have a crush on Julien. He is not based on my husband at all, but the way that Julien speaks and rationalizes his decisions is quintessentially French. When I first arrived in France, one of the first things that I noticed was the French seem to have three responses to almost any situation: 1) No; 2) Impossible; and 3) It’s not my fault! The last is my favorite because it is used the most! There is a passage in the novella where Ellery must confront Julien. They are sitting in beautiful Parc Monceau and Ellery says something to the effect, “I will not love you again, Julien.” Julien’s response, “I don’t believe you because ‘will’ implies that you ‘could’ if you wanted to.” When I read that aloud to one of my French friends, she laughed so hard. She said, “Now, that is a spot on response from a French guy.”

My other favorite character is Lola Sanchez. Her appearance in this novella is small but impactful. Readers will get better acquainted with her soon in my first novel, Geneva Nights. Half French and Spanish, she is Ellery’s best friend in Paris, and she is so feisty. I will not reveal who it is, but she is based upon a real friend from Chicago. She’s one of those "ride or die" girlfriends. These girlfriends are the type of women who will rush to your side, in the middle of the night carrying a pint of ice cream, tissues and a crowbar! They also are the women who will be there for you when your boyfriend breaks up with you, or you lose your job, or when your husband leaves! While experiencing heartbreak, every girl needs a friend like Lola!

If 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover – A Novella and Other Short Stories had a theme song, what would it be and why?

CDM: Well, it already does but there are so many perfect songs! In the beginning of the book, I quote some lyrics from a Ryan Adams song, “Everybody Knows.” When I was writing this book, I was listening to a lot of alt country music. The Wreckers song, ‘Leave the Pieces When You Go,” comes to mind and was so appropriate for Ellery. “It’s all right, Yeah, I’ll be fine. Don’t worry about this heart of mine. Just take your love and hit the road!’ Julien’s perfect theme song is the acoustic version of “9 Crimes” by Damien Rice. If I were to put an old school soul twist on it, Gladys Knight’s “I Don’t Want to Do Wrong,” is also fitting. Also Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes’ “The Love I Lost.” Repeatedly while writing, I remember hearing in my head the line, “We loved each other; we just couldn’t get along.”

About Writing In General:

How do you begin writing a book? Do you start with an outline? Do you hand write anything or type it out?

CDM: I start out as a true “pantser.” Different parts of stories come to mind. I write them all down and then I turn into a “plotter.” I begin the hard work of figuring out what parts actually can work together. I edit the work to refine the story. I pass it out to friends to get feedback and make corrections. Once I have what I think is the final draft, I send the manuscript to my editor. Often I set aside the current manuscript for a few days so I can think about the changes clearly. Then, I read the manuscript again, make more corrections until I am happy. I send the manuscript back to the editor so she can proofread it one last time. I also send a copy back to friends to do the same. I incorporate any final changes needed. From there I send to the publisher. My inspiration comes from everywhere and as a result I have both handwritten notes as well as files on the computer. I have been known to write on anything, including the back of my children’s report cards, napkins and credit card statements.

Do you have a certain writing style?

CDM: I am realist to be sure. I really believe in presenting the world as I see it. I think the real world can present situations that are every bit as compelling as a fantasy world. I enjoy examining complex relationships. I like making my readers think because there are always lessons to be learned. However, I am not preachy or judgmental. I like creating empathetic characters, people for which readers easily can identify with their circumstances.

Being in Europe has definitely had an influence on my style of writing in that I don’t necessarily believe stories have to end happily. Nor do I believe stories must always have a definitive conclusion. I worry about this last point at times. I never want my readers to think that the open-ended conclusion is a deliberate attempt at using a cliffhanger as a literary device because actually, it’s not. To me, life can be messy, extremely complicated, and the answers to our problems don’t always present themselves in neat little packages. Sometimes there is never a satisfactory answer to life’s trickier questions and that’s okay.

Are any of your books based on things that you have experienced in your life or the life of someone you know?

CDM: In the first collection of short stories, Encounters in Paris, there are two stories that are based on real life. “A Haunting in Courbevoie” is based on what happened when my own mother passed away a few years ago. The story, “Some Birds of a Feather,” is based on two real pigeons that have set up a home on my kitchen window sill here in Lausanne. In 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover, the short story, “Or, Maybe Just Leave, Steve,” is based on a couple my husband and I knew back in Chicago. They were about to break up and they had to decide how to divide up their possessions. This story is told from the point of view of one of those possessions.

Do you have any rituals that you use when you are writing or a certain place you go to get inspired?

CDM: I don’t have any rituals however, I do find that it is incredibly easy for me to write on trains. Because of my day job, I am constantly crossing Switzerland by train for meetings. Just traveling from Lausanne to Zurich takes two hours so the commute provides me with a lot of free time, and I often use it in order to write.

How many books have you written?

CDM: I have written two books so far. The first book was called Encounters in Paris – A Collection of Short Stories which was published in 2010. If readers want to better understand my character Ellery Roulet that is a good place to start because it is here that readers are introduced to her through five connected short stories. The first story in the collection, “Pandora’s Box Revisited,” is the precursor to the novella in my current collection, 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover.

Did you have to do much research when writing your books? If so, do you tend to write first or research first?

CDM: Yes and no. Incidences of infidelity, which is the primary focus of the novella, were all around. All I had to do was read the tabloid news! A radio host in Canada was interviewing me for Encounters in Paris and she stated it perfectly when she said, ‘If you live long enough either you have done it or it has been done to you,’ and that is what makes these stories so universal. Whether it was due to infidelity or not, we all have had relationships go horribly wrong. We’ve all known love and loss.

Do you consider the work as a whole or any of the stories true love stories?

CDM: Yes, of all the stories presented the last short story, “Or, Maybe in Death, Beth,” is my favorite because it's a true love story. I've been married for nearly 15 years and I know we’ve had our ups and downs. As part of my research on this book, I've met couples who have been committed for more than 40 or 50 years. This story shows how a relationship can endure for a lifetime. It's the perfect bookend to the love triangle that plays out in the novella because a love like Herman and Beth's makes Ellery and Julien's marital problems almost seem trivial by comparison. During my interview one woman told me that her and her husband had been through everything together and had weathered the storms. She said ‘When you get as old as we are and death is near, you are not thinking about who cheated on whom. It’s more about did you really enjoy one another while you still had the chance. Everything else is irrelevant.’

Some would argue that this point of view makes sense because women of that generation had limited opportunities so leaving was not an option for them. Women of today can leave any time they want but that doesn’t make the decision to do so any easier. This story still makes you wonder if today's society gives up too soon on the marital institution. Other stories in the book make us question whether or not we stay too long in bad relationships. How do you find ways of truly loving someone when you know eventually they will disappoint or even hurt you deeply. These are some of the topics I try to explore throughout the work. If they could grow up and find a way to reach common ground, maybe someday Ellery and Julien could have a love like Herman and Beth's. However, that remains to be seen.

About Your Reading:

Are you reading anything right now?

CDM: I am reading some fantastic books right now: Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones; 32 Candles by Ernessa T. Carter; and the short story collection, Before You Suffocate Your Fool Self by Danielle Evans. I just finished a terrific book called Husband and Wives by Leah Stewart and I am awe of the talent that each of these ladies possess.

What are some of your favorite books and authors?

CDM: Another Country by James Baldwin. I first read it when I was 19 and it was the book that fueled my dreams of visiting Paris some day. This is one of the few books that I have read multiple times. I try to read it again every ten years because each time that I do, I understand the book a little differently. This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald, I also love On Beauty by Zadie Smith and the Human Stain by Philip Roth.

Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

CDM: Now, I realize how hard it is to write. I pay a lot more attention to the literary devices used in order to better understand them in action and to continue improving my own writing.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

CDM: Absolutely, but I will not read anything closely related to my own work because I don’t want to be influenced subconsciously. For instance, while writing my books, I read a lot of political nonfiction and historical biographies. Even before I started writing fiction, my consulting work requires me to write all the time. This is when I will read a great deal of fiction because it opens my mind and allows me to write easier.

Personal Information:

If you have to describe yourself with one word, what would it be?

CDM: Eclectic. I like a lot of different things. It’s dangerous to look at me and make assumptions about my tastes because most people would be mistaken!

You have lived in a variety of places from Chicago to Paris to Switzerland. What is it like in Paris and Switzerland? Which is your favorite?

CDM: I call Chicago my home city; Paris my adopted city and Lausanne my host city and each place remains special for me.

Chicago is my home and that will ALWAYS be the case. Next to President Obama and actor John Cusack, I am probably the city’s greatest ambassador because everyone I meet in Europe knows I am a proud Chicagoan! It is equally tough and beautiful to live.

Paris, hands down, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. There is always something to do. The first time I visited Paris was in 1997. My husband and I had come to France for Christmas in order to visit his family in Lyon. We took a side trip to Paris for a couple of days and it was so perfect. What many tourists don’t realize is the best times in which to visit Paris is around the New Year and in the month of August because the city is virtually empty. We got a chance to enjoy the city alone; it was snowing hard (a fairly rare occurrence); lights were twinkling everywhere; and it was really romantic. However, fast forward five years and I learned that visiting the city and actually living there were two very different things. By the time I arrived there to live in 2001, I had two very small children (ages 5 and two weeks), a dog and cat, and I felt really lost. I didn’t speak French and it was really hard to adjust. My five-year-old daughter was my pocket interpreter! After about six months, I started to find my way, and I knew my way around the city better than my husband. I enjoyed living there a great deal by the time I left. On the days when I was ready to leave, I would wake up and see a beautiful pink sunrise and think, “Nope, I can stay another day!”

We moved to Lausanne, Switzerland in 2007 because my husband’s job transfer. This time the transition from France to Switzerland was much easier because I knew what to expect. Lausanne is like the Swiss San Francisco. It is funky and has an interesting vibe for such a small city. It is environmentally beautiful and green. It is a great place to raise children because it so safe. However, it is so expensive to live here and at times, a little too quiet for my big city tastes.

What is a typical day in your life like?

CDM: Most days are pretty chaotic. I get my girls up and out the door for school. I hit the gym for an hour. What I do the rest of the day depends on the day. I own my consulting firm so three days out of the week, I work from my home office. The other two days I write. I pick up my girls in the afternoons, help with homework and get dinner done. Then I try to unwind a little by watching TV with my family. I read a lot before going to bed. The weekends are reserved for shopping and just hanging out. I think the stress also comes from the fact that everything closes so early in Europe. Stores shut their doors by 7 pm weekdays and 5 pm on Saturdays. Stores are closed on Sunday. I totally miss shopping at a super K-mart at midnight!

What three artists would I find in your IPod or CD player?

CDM: Because I am a indie rock chick at heart, I have Phoenix, Foster the People and Yo La Tengo in my IPod. However, I also have Sade, Luther Vandross, Jill Scott, and The Roots in there too. It is a very weird and eclectic mix that matches my ever-changing moods!

If I came to your home and looked in your refrigerator what would I find?

CDM: Liters of Coke Zero. I cannot survive without caffeine.

What is one food item that you can’t live without?

CDM: Pop Tarts (Unfrosted Brown Sugar Cinnamon). Unfortunately, Pop Tarts do not exist in France or Switzerland so my family and friends send me regular care packages.

What is your favorite color?

CDM: Green

What do you like to do when you are not writing (hobbies, etc.)?

CDM: I love shopping for all types of music. I love looking for vinyl records and also downloading great music as well. I love reading. I can spend the entire day in a book store or library. I like traveling but I hate preparing to travel. I spend a crazy amount of time on my computer. I also spend a lot of time working on my family genealogy. I love baseball. Once while living in Paris in 2005, I missed baseball so much that my husband found the only dive bar in town that was transmitting the World Series between my beloved Chicago White Sox and the Houston Astros over satellite. There we were, watching the game at 2 am in a South African bar with the Paris baseball team, comprised of players from Canada and Australia!

What is the one thing about yourself that others would be shocked to know?

CDM: That I slept in the bed with my mother until I was 17 and almost ready to leave for college! There, I said it and no, I am not ashamed of myself! lol I had my own bedroom but I just refused to sleep there unless I was having a sleep over. Then one day I realized I really needed my privacy and my room became my sanctuary. So people can well imagine how shocking it was for someone like me to suddenly leave my family and set up a home 4,000 miles away in another country.

What is next for you in 2011?

CDM: I am working on a project called Geneva Nights which will be my first real novel. Everyone thinks of Geneva, Switzerland as being a very quiet and calm place. There is a dark side, too. I want to explore some of those elements. It will be the last time (for a while) that Ellery Roulet appears and some new characters will emerge. I am also working on a new collection as part of the Encounters in Chicago series. All that I can say about this project is that there are five stories that are set in a neighborhood pharmacy and affect four generations of women. Two non-fiction projects are pending as well.

Contact Information:

How can your readers contact you?


Visit my website at:

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Thank you very much for taking the time out to answer my interview questions!

CDM: Thank you so much, Cheryl. The pleasure is all mine and I appreciate the opportunity to share my story with your readers!

© 2011, Cheryl of Black Diamonds Book Reviews . All Rights Reserved. If you reading this on a site other than, , Urban Image Magazine, or Cheryl's feed, be aware that this post has been stolen and is used without permission.

1 comment:

  1. I think this one is my favorite author interview to date. Because I liked her so much I will have to borrow your copy of her short stories!!!! They sound great and she's so interesting!