Laurel Zuckerman talks with Frances Gendlin about memoir and travel writing, as well as Mexico as a writer’s refuge, Saul Bellow, new technologies and her book.: Paris, Moi and the Gang...A Memoir of Sorts
LZ: Frances Gendlin, aren’t you too
young to write your memoirs?
FG: Unfortunately not. But “Paris, Moi, and the Gang” is semi-fictional, covering just one year of my life in
LZ: You say “she,” not “I.”
FG: Well, yes. There’s a whole lot about the Fran character that really is like me, but then there’s some that isn’t. So, I had to look at her as a character in the book, not me. I wonder if people will say “Oh yes, that’s just like Fran,” when I think it isn’t.
remember the writer Saul Bellow telling me that he had spent a great deal of
time taking himself out of the protagonist in his book “Herzog.” But, of
course, everyone said that he was Herzog.
LZ [very excited]: You knew Saul Bellow?
FG: Yes, we lived on the same street in
LZ [even more excited]: How?
We very often ate lunch together, and after lunch he would read to me what he had written in the morning. The first reading I would think “Wow, that’s so great.” But then the next day and the following days he would edit and go over and over the pages, and I began to learn what he was looking for. And I could feel it myself, when he had what he wanted. This went on for some years, those lunches, and I was extremely lucky to have that experience.
LZ: You were in the publishing industry for many years—as Editor Sierra Magazine, and then Executive Director of the Association of American University Presses. You’ve written five books
over the past 12 years. How did you get into writing fulltime?
FG: When I left my day jobs, it seemed the next step. I had formed an editorial business, The Right Word, coaching people who were writing books and teaching writing to foreign businessmen. But, I was
took me more than two years to do the research and the writing, and by that
time I had fallen in love with the
By the way, now there’s a new publisher and the series is called “Culture Shock!”
LZ: The subtitle of “Paris, Moi, and the Gang” is “a Memoir…of Sorts.” What does that mean, “of sorts”?
FG: It’s a mixture of fact and fiction about my life here. A lot of what happens in the book actually did happen, one way or another. But some of it is just what easily could have happened to any of us—this “gang” of friends who are composites of real people I’ve known, but with a little stretching of reality thrown in. So, it’s written in the style of a memoir, but I can’t really call it that.
French, it would be called a faux mémoir.
LZ: You moved from
FG: As you know, the low dollar and the economic crisis forced me to decamp.
So, to make it into an adventure, I headed to
I’ve learned a new language, and, I’m even taking salsa lessons, which I love!
now, my finances having recovered, I’m thinking about a
LZ: I couldn't help but notice that
you're a pro on Skype, Kindle, the itouch. Could you talk a little about how
these technologies have helped you as a writer?
FG: I’ve always embraced every new technology that has come along. Besides being fun, the new devices keep me in touch with writers, books, and writing, even though I’m now physically elsewhere. I chat with my friends on skype and I’ve even attended a Paris Writers Group meeting on speaker phone. I read the New York Times and Le Monde online, and I listen to NPR on the iTouch. It seems that every café In Vallarta has free Wifi. And since there are no real bookshops there, I can get just about any book I’ve seen reviewed on my e-reader in just a few minutes. Nowadays you can be anywhere and still participate in the world you’ve chosen. Of course, I’d rather be in
LZ: You gave a fascinating talk on the future of the book at PAN a few weeks ago.
changes are in store. If you had one piece of advice for writers starting out
today what would it be?
FG: Follow your dreams. But this doesn’t mean doing so without preparation.
Read a lot in the genre you’ve chosen. Learn the accepted principles of structure, even if you decide eventually to push the edges of the box. Get feedback on your works in progress. Judiciously, though. When you think the work is ready, explore the options, such as the various Internet sites, where you can upload portions of your work and receive comments from readers.
LZ: Must a travel writer visit a place before writing about it? Or is it better to research and write about a place, then visit?
You can’t trust research alone when you’re writing about a place. And since so much has been written for the
first-time tourist, travel writers have to delve deeper, create a niche, find
something that might otherwise be unnoticed, experience for themselves something
different that a reader should know about.
It would be hard to write anything new about the
Keep your reader in mind, at all times.
LZ: Is there anything you have
regretted doing—or not doing?
FG: I agree with John Maynard Keynes who said that the one thing he regretted in life was not having drunk more champagne.