It’s my pleasure to be a participant in the promotional tour for author David LeRoy’s debut novel, THE SIREN OF PARIS, which explores the French Resistance and other events during World War II.
Here is a synopsis of David’s novel:
Born in Paris and raised in the United States, 21-year-old Marc Tolbert enjoys the advantages of being born to a wealthy, well-connected family. Reaching a turning point in his life, he decides to abandon his plans of going to medical school and study art in Paris. In 1939, he boards a ship and heads to France, blissfully unaware that Europe -- along with the rest of the world -- is on the brink of an especially devastating war.
When he arrives at l'École Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts, more ominous signs surface. There are windows covered with tape, sandbags shielding the fronts of important buildings, whispers of Parisian children leaving the city, and gas masks being distributed. Distracted by a blossoming love affair, Marc isn't too worried about his future, and he certainly doesn't expect a Nazi invasion of France.
Marc has a long journey ahead of him. He witnesses, first-hand, the fall of Paris and the departure of the French government. Employed by an ambassador, he visits heads of state, including the horribly obese gray-haired Mussolini and the charismatic Hitler. He witnesses the effects of the tightening vise of occupation, first-hand, as he tries to escape the country. He also participates in the French resistance, spends time in prison camps, and sees the liberation of the concentration camps. During his struggles, he is reunited with the woman he loves, Marie, who speaks passionately of working with the resistance. Is she working for freedom, or is she not to be trusted?
David has graciously answered some questions for me about his book and his writing.
Mason - If you had to write this book over, would you do anything differently - content in the book, your writing schedule, the way you researched it, etc.?
David - I have recently received very frank feedback, from an industry insider, that the story needed to be changed for more mass-market appeal. I do not have long descriptive scenes of Paris streets, I lack weather details, and they wanted Marc to rescue Marie from her involvement with the Gestapo, rather than becoming her victim. The book stands in strong contrast to other novels of Paris during this time.
There are three things I would do differently. In the basement scene on June 3rd when Paris is bombed, I would show the reader that Marc and the embassy staff are afraid of getting hit by bombs and drowning in wine, because Ambassador Bullitt had a collection of 18,000 bottles of wine in that building. The second thing I would change, and I am seriously considering doing this in a 2nd edition, is to reveal the identity of the mysterious German agent Marie takes under her guidance and teaches the fine art of entrapment of Resistance members, along with emotional and mental torture. This mysterious German agent is Klaus Barbie. I intentionally hid this in the book, however some people have figured it out. If you read that scene closely, it is clear that Marie is teaching this agent her techniques; he is later transferred to Paris. The idea that Marc could save Marie from the Gestapo is very romantic, but not at all realistic. Klaus Barbie is not well known today, and his trial was over 25 years ago but he was an amazing monster. In this book, he is Marie’s student, not the other way around.
Third, I am going to change the cover. It will be a crest of three Fleur de lis of crushed egg shell, one for ghosts of the past, one for prayers, and one for regrets, bound by a single gold ring representing Marc’s engagement to Marie. This is woven into the first chapter of the book. I think the current cover gives readers the idea that this is a war romance, or a thriller, instead of a serious historical novel. At the time the cover seemed to capture the story, but now I wonder what I was thinking when I chose it.
I would not change the flashbacks in the second part of the story, because every step in Marc’s spiritual journey is carefully considered. Some have suggested cutting some of these characters as if they were just fillers.
Mason - Did you find any fascinating tidbits of information during your research that you couldn’t use in your book?
David - Tons and some will be explored in the book that follows this one. One of the most unusual facts was that Winston Churchill was crossing the channel in a pink airplane, in German controlled airspace, as Paris fell. Because I use third person limited perspective in the book, I do not dive into much exposition going beyond Marc’s point of view. However, when I was close to completing the story, I discovered that in May of 1944 the German Police had posted a job announcement for undercover agents to work, in Paris, against the resistance. Over 6,000 applied for the job. For Marc that makes little difference, because he is already in the hands of the most experienced one of all. But for most in the resistance movement, which included many teenagers, this meant death, usually in the parlor room of 180 Rue de la Pompe. Some historians have questioned the size and scope of the resistance movement, but I think they fail to account for the high number who didn’t survive long enough to be counted after the war.
Mason - Why write this book? What made this story so compelling to you that you had to tell it?
David - I faced a decision, early on, about what kind of story I would write. One would be more along the lines of the typical World War II novel, full of intrigue, spying, and of course the victorious hero in the end. But all the people I read about were not exactly intact. They were haunted by the past and had experienced terrible things, especially betrayal on a very personal level, which scarred them for life. When I discovered that even to this day, survivors, and families of the victims of the RMS Lancastria have not been recognized, or even had the ship declared a war grave, I decided I had to explore betrayal and overcoming survivor’s guilt because it is still real to this day.
The people who read the book and are the most moved by it have been relatives and children of French Resistance members, because they finally understand why their loved ones never talked about the war and never bragged about their victories. Marc is not a typical hero in the sense of our modern novels, but more of a wounded healer. Through the point of view of his mystical consciousness, the reader experiences a glimpse of hope that, one day, there is release from this war that took an estimated 69 million lives and promise of eternal peace. The inspiration for this unique structure comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, which is the story of the soul Ani traveling through the underworld until he reaches the most sacred space, eternal peace. This transforms the historical characters in this novel into a pantheon of both demons and gods.
Mason - Is there any advice you’ve been given that you pass on to writers just beginning?
David - Study various kinds of story and plot structure. I know that screenplay books are about writing screenplays, but the tools they teach about crafting a story are valuable.
Mason - With the book’s release, as you look back what was the biggest surprise that occurred in writing the story?
David - THE SIREN OF PARIS is nowhere near a bestseller. It is not the number of people who read it, but who reads it that shocks me the most. I have had emails from people with relatives who were in the Paris resistance. Recently, there has been attention, in England, to details in the book about the RMS Lancastria. I do not cover the ultimate fate of Marie in this book, and that is not a mistake. However, some are now asking if this person is alive, and how do I know these details because she would be 92 years old, and a wanted war criminal.
Mason - What can readers look forward to next from you?
David - I have several projects going, but I plan to release a novella titled THE FLOWER OF CHAMULA in 2013. It is more of a character driven novel; it explores overcoming terminal illness and how it can prevent someone from living fully in the present. My fascination with the mystical and spiritual side of life will be evident in this work. It is set in San Cristobel de la Casa Mexico, in the Chiapas Mountains very close to one of the few places where the Catholic Church has been kicked out completely and replaced with a local form of Shamanism. Photography is not allowed, the floor of the church is covered in pine needles, the air is thick with the smoke of copal, and the veil is thin between the worlds.
David, thank you for joining us today and sharing these details about your book. I had to laugh when I read about Winston Churchill in the pink airplane. There has to be a story there.
Now let me share a bit of background about David. A native of California, David received a BA in Philosophy and Religion at Point Loma Nazarene College in San Diego. After returning from a European arts study program, he became interested in the history behind the French Resistance during World War Two. Writing fiction has become his latest way to explore philosophical, moral and emotional issues of life. THE SIREN OF PARIS is his first novel.
For more information on David and his writing, visit him at http://www.thesirenofparis.com/.
Here is what one reviewer has to say about THE SIREN OF PARIS – “This self-published novel really exhibits the amount of time and effort that its author took with his research. Mr. LeRoy takes his readers through the streets of Paris and shows the way the Parisian people were ignorant of the true toll of the war before it rolled down their own streets. He also uses many events of the time period, some that are well-known and some that are less known. I think even readers who are fond of World War II novels will learn about the underground resistance in Paris and the wartime tragedy of the RMS Lancastria.”
Here’s a book trailer for THE SIREN OF PARIS.
Thanks everyone for stopping by today. Do you enjoy stories based in fact and set during World War II? Is Paris one of the cities you love to read about no matter the era?