Please join me in welcoming author Paula McLain to Thoughts in Progress today as the special guest blogger as she makes a stop on her virtual book tour.
Paula’s latest release is THE PARIS WIFE. Here’s a brief description of the book: A deeply evocative story of ambition and betrayal, THE PARIS WIFE captures a remarkable period of time—Paris in the twenties—and an extraordinary love affair between two unforgettable people: Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley.
In Chicago in 1920, Hadley Richardson is a quiet twenty-eight-year-old who has all but given up on love and happiness—until she meets Ernest Hemingway and finds herself captivated by his good looks, intensity, and passionate desire to write. Following a whirlwind courtship and wedding, the pair set sail for Paris, where they become the golden couple in a lively and volatile group of expatriates that includes Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.
But the hard-drinking and fast-living café life does not celebrate traditional notions of family and monogamy. As Hadley struggles with jealousy and self-doubt and Ernest wrestles with his burgeoning writing career, they must confront a deception that could prove the undoing of one of the great romances in literary history.
Paula joins us today to talk about her book and her writing.
There’s a moment in A Moveable Feast, when Ernest Hemingway and his new wife, Hadley, have just moved to Paris, where he’s hoping to earn his stripes as a writer. It’s 1922. Winter has settled grimly in, and Hemingway, sitting in a café after a day’s writing, watches a cold rain falling and feels the grip of melancholy and emptiness. He orders a dozen portugaises and dry white wine and as he eats the oysters, “with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture,” something happens.
The emptiness he’s feeling is washed away, too. It occurs to him that he and Hadley could leave Paris for a holiday in the Swiss Alps, where there would be lovely snow instead of rain. He rushes home to tell Hadley of his plan and she agrees wholeheartedly. Within days they’re tucked into a cozy chalet in Chamby, Switzerland. They teach themselves to ski and, at night, lay tucked into the featherbed with their books and a fire roaring nearby, and everything is better than good. It saves them.
Researching Hemingway and Hadley’s life together for THE PARIS WIFE, it struck me that the overwhelming success of this trip to Chamby set a tone for their marriage. For the next five years, as Hemingway was becoming the writer we know now, arguably the most influential of his generation, he and Hadley lived in Paris and traveled with increasing relish—from the ice glaciers of the Austrian Vorarlberg to the hot cobblestones of Pamplona and everywhere in between: Milan, Rapallo, Lausanne, Antibes, Madrid, Valencia, San Sebastian. They had an endless appetite for a fresh view, exotic dish, unfamiliar wine—for life, really. And as I worked on THE PARIS WIFE, tracing their journeys imaginatively, living with them in these amazing places, I was literally swept away.
I wrote nearly all of the first draft tucked into a brown velveteen chair at Starbucks in Cleveland, where I live. Hardly a Parisian café—and yet it didn’t matter. Outside the fogged glass, it was October, then December, then February. Snow fell, melted, fell again—but I didn’t really feel it. I had slipped through a miraculous portal to San Sebastian and the blinding white sand beach of La Concha, or to the first riotous night of Fiesta in Pamplona, complete with chirping fifes and fireworks and riau-riau dancing.
When I finished the book, late in May, I almost couldn’t let it go. Living inside their story was such an incredible voyage—and because I’ve been very lucky indeed, it hasn’t ended. This past summer I traced the Hemingways’ route through France and Spain—Paris to San Sebastian to Pamplona, to Antibes.
It was a life-changing trip and it began with a plate of perfect oysters, portugaises, and dry white wine at one of Hemingway’s favorite Parisian cafés, the Closerie des Lilas. They tasted of the sea, yes, and also of history and memory. Of sweeping love, and life lived to the fullest. They tasted of Hemingway’s Paris and my own extraordinary good fortune—and I savored every last drop.
Paula, it sounds as though you had a wonderful time doing research on this book. I can see where you could easily be caught up in the story and the adventures that they took.
Now a bit about Paula. She received an MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan and has been a resident of Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. She is the author of two collections of poetry, as well as a memoir, LIKE FAMILY, and a first novel, A TICKET TO RIDE. She lives in Cleveland with her family. For more on Paula, her writing and THE PARIS WIFE, check out her website at www.pariswife.com.
What are your thoughts on doing research for a book or a project? Do you get lost in the details when you do research?