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juliet blackwell
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The Paris Key

The Paris Key


What first inspired you to write The Paris Key?
Like so many people before me, I fell in love with Paris the first time I visited (many years ago). I have returned several times since, and then two years ago I rented a rustic French farmhouse from a friend, and spent a month in the countryside—near Bergerac—before heading to Paris. While there I discovered the Village Saint Paul, a true "fairytale" like neighborhood. I stumbled upon a dusty old locksmith shop wound up having a fascinating talk with the elderly shopkeeper about the history of keys and locks. He fixed me a cup of tea, his granddaughter joined us, and neighbors dropped in! From that moment I knew I had to set a novel here, in this shop and this neighborhood and this city.

Did Genevieve's character surprise you in any unexpected ways as you wrote the book?
I think Genevieve's bravery surprised me! I believe most of us have times when we feel like we'd like a "do-over" in life, but embracing change can be frightening. Genevieve is emboldened by her memories of being happy in Paris as a young teenager, but she's still taking a huge chance to move to a foreign country. And once there, Genevieve doesn't simply dwell in the past, but allows herself to shift her way of thinking, to experience the French approach to life. I remember thinking at one point: "Genevieve, are you going to get on this whole certification thing?" and she answered: "Yes, maybe after another glass of pastis." She was embracing the Parisian pace of life! (And yes, I do "talk" to my characters!)

How much do you think suffering such a deep loss at an early age informed Genevieve's personality? And in what ways did it impact her outlook on life?
I think she shut down certain parts of herself. I was a social worker for many years, and I learned that when we experience trauma at a young age, sometimes parts of us get "stuck" at that age. It makes it hard to move on, to achieve a mature outlook on life, such as opening up to new experiences and taking responsibility for our own happiness. The young Genevieve was hit hard by her mother's death, but also by what she felt was a second rejection when she was forced to leave Paris, and then by her father and brother's different manner of processing grief. The adult Genevieve was given a rare chance to "know" certain aspects of her mother (and her uncle, and her father Jim) that had been lost to her, and by facing them she was able to accept and open herself up to a fulfilling life.

Genevieve's cousin, Catharine, and her new friends, Sylviane and Phillipe in particular, are such vibrant and unique characters. Did you have a favorite secondary character in the book?
I would have to say Sylviane. I just love her energy and fun outlook on life. She has the straightforward, honest yet sweet and caring style characteristic of many of the Frenchwomen I know. It can be rather startling at first to a Californian who is used to polite obfuscation, but ultimately I find it so charming! And after all, who wouldn't want a Parisian friend like Sylviane to take you to historic cemeteries and shopping and lunch—and to do a Parisian-style makeover?

Would you ever consider moving to Paris for a year? What about life there most appeals to you?
Short answer: YES! There are the obvious reasons: the wine, the food, the music and romance and art and architecture and history. But there's so much more. Even though Paris is a sophisticated, international city, things in Europe are still more old-fashioned than in much of the United States: there's an emphasis on family and long meals and conversation and taking time to relax and enjoy. I find this not only in France, but also in Italy and Spain and Mexico and Cuba. Even though I was born and raised in the area that became California's "Silicon Valley," and even though I use computers everyday to write and correspond and reach out to readers, I feel like some human part of us has been lost in the modern shuffle. I relish the slower pace, a chance to sit in parks and dream and read; and the knowledge that the time spent not working is easily as important as the time spent toiling away. And finally, I love to travel: I adore meeting new people and learning new languages and experiencing different ways of life. I think it opens up one's mind and soul and heart.

What do you think will be the biggest impact of Genevieve's decision to follow her heart? Do you think she will be more successful at opening herself up to those around her in Paris than she was back home?
Oh yes, very much so. The Paris Key is about a moment of transition: not so much of an unhappy woman finding happiness, but more a "shut-down" person learning to open herself up to life: to new experiences and friends and love and even heartbreak—because you have to be willing to risk heartbreak in order to truly love. I imagine Genevieve will pursue her training as a locksmith, will continue to get to know her neighbors, and will take on her uncle's role as a cherished member of the community. Perhaps with Killian at her side, and perhaps not. Either way, I think she will make her decision based not on fear, but on what she wants and needs as a woman.

There's an undercurrent of mystery running throughout The Paris Key. As a mystery author as well as an author of women's fiction novels, was that piece important to you?
I think all novels are mysteries at their base: why did so-and-so do what they did? What happened? What was the motivation? What will happen in the future, how will the issues be resolved? As humans we're hard-wired to be curious about other people's lives and experiences. We read in order to hear a story, to find out what happened or what the characters decide, and who they really are. I've always been drawn to stories about secrets—especially family secrets—and their long-reaching ramifications. Writing The Paris Key was different from my genre writing in that I was able to delve much more into the psyche of my characters and how the past effects them, rather than trying to uncover a murderer! It felt luxurious, somehow, to recount the sensory details of the Parisian surroundings, and to explore the personal reflections and reactions of the characters. And in the end, to find out the whole mystery, since it was only unraveled as I wrote The Paris Key!

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