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Interview: Paula McLain, Author of The Paris Wife

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Paula McLain is the author of the novel Ticket to Ride, a memoir titled Like Family, two collections of poetry, as well as her newest release, The Paris Wife, which is a historical fiction novel.  Ms. McLain has a MFA in poetry, which was received from the University of Michigan and has lived in Yaddo and the MacDowell Colony. Paula McLain currently resides in Cleveland with her family.

To learn more about Ms. McLain and her work, please visit her website.

Please tell us a bit about your book, The Paris Wife – characters, plot, etc.

It’s a fictionalized treatment of Ernest Hemingway’s first marriage and upstart years in 1920s Paris, told from his wife Hadley’s point of view. Although my novel features well-known figures from The Lost Generation like Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, and Ezra Pound, I believe it’s principally the story of a marriage, and of a great love.

Do you have any particular habits that you do while writing? Places you write the best, foods, drinks, etc., that help set your “writing mood”?

I absolutely have to listen to music when I write — otherwise, the silence gets too loud, particularly if things aren’t going well. I like to stream Pandora.com on my iPhone, because it never fails to introduce music to me that I’ve never heard before and instantly can’t live without.

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading Geraldine Brooks’ new novel, Caleb’s Crossing, because I’ve been asked to review it. Although it’s technically work, and not a pleasure read — the book is absolutely sensational so far.

Who are some of your favorite authors and/or books?

Willa Cather, My Ántonia; Margaret Atwood, Cat’s Eye; Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping; Michael Cunningham, The Hours; William Maxwell, So, Long, See You Tomorrow; Joan Didion, Play it as it Lays; Toni Morrison, Sula.

If you could meet any author, dead or alive, who would it be and why?

I’d love to take Alice Munro to dinner and ask her a zillion questions about how she’s able to pack a novel’s worth of richness and complexity into her stories. I’m not sure she would enjoy this, but I would!

Okay, here are a few “get to know you better” questions:

Please describe a perfect meal – including menu and those present.

One of my favorite meals ever was in Savannah, Georgia with my two sisters. We were celebrating my oldest sister Teresa’s 40th birthday, and had this amazingly delicious crab boil dinner at a seafood place by the water. For dessert there was this enormous slab of key lime pie. It was absolutely ideal.

What are some of your favorite ways to relax?

I like to walk outdoors, though the weather’s not always fine enough in Cleveland. I really like to read cookbooks, and to cook — which feels very creative to me. Some people get stressed out in the kitchen or overwhelmed, but I’ve always found cooking very relaxing. It makes me feel connected to my day, my house, my kitchen, and my family.

If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

I used to live in Vermont, when I taught at a private boarding school, and loved it there. I have a fantasy about going back and buying a great old farmhouse, with a big garden, and dogs, the whole bucolic picture. Winters can be hard there, but it’s so beautiful, I could almost forgive that.

Share with us a few of your dreams. Also whether they have been fulfilled or are still a work in progress.

I’ve always dreamed of being able to support myself as a writer, and at least for now, I’m actually doing that! So that’s fulfilled. I’d like to travel more, and perhaps learn a foreign language semi-fluently, and expose my children to other cultures and landscapes, and types of community.

What are some of your guilty pleasures?

I love to read cookbooks and watch cooking shows. I also love celebrity magazines when I’m in airports or doctor’s offices or the grocery store. I sometimes deliberately choose a long line at checkout so I can catch up!

If you could leave the world with one piece of advice, what would it be?

To persevere. Life is full of challenges — and I don’t just mean work-related challenges. There’s so much we can’t ever control, but we can try to face everything with some resilience and scrappiness, and adaptability — even when, or especially when, life doesn’t seem to be going our way.

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About April Pohren

  • Love the interview and I really loved The Paris Wife!

    Michelle V