Interview: Carolyn Davenport-Moncel
Carolyn Davenport-Moncel is a virtual media and web consultant by day and an author by night. She owns MotionTemps, LLC, an international Digital Project and Web Content Management firm and is known for her articles on media relation that have appeared in a huge range of newspapers, magazines and websites.
She currently lives in Lausanne, Switzerland with her husband and two daughters. Her second book, ‘5 Reasons to Leave a Lover’, came out on 5 September 2011.
Carolyn how would you describe yourself in three adjectives?
Eclectic, grounded and approachable.
What is your connection to France?
My husband is from Lyon. Although we met and married in Chicago (my hometown) 15 years ago, we returned to France in 2002 because his father became ill quite suddenly. My husband wanted to move back to France to spend more time with his family because he had been away from them living in the United States for almost ten years. From 2002 until 2007 we lived in Courbevoie near La Défense. It was a big adjustment for me in the beginning but by the time we left, it was terrific. It was a good balance because we could get into Paris very quickly (one stop on the SNCF) but it was also a quiet little town. I hear it is changing quite a bit and becoming a bit more lively now.
And what is France to you?
A beautiful place still full of mystery. Every time I come back for a visit, I find something new and view the place in a different way.
What are your interests outside of writing and media consulting?
I love walking, hanging out with my kids and playing video games or watching movies. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on my computer; writing, downloading and listening to music and reading. I like watching cooking shows, in fact watching them in France helped me to improve my French considerably. I like cooking and trying out new recipes as long as I am not forced to do it. For the last three years, I have been involved in a huge genealogy project. I have been able to trace my family back some seven or eight generations just based on oral history. Along the way, I have met new cousins, a couple of them currently living and working overseas like me.
What inspired you to start writing fiction?
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve known that I wanted to write fiction. I used to write a lot as a young girl and teenager and then one day, I just stopped. Even after that, my need to tell stories continued with a degree in Communications. Working in public relations allowed me to write stories all the time. Even now, I cannot hold a meeting with my clients without including some story with a lesson to be learned.
I also come from a family of storytellers. Originally from the Deep South, storytelling is in my family’s DNA. I knew I wanted to write again while living in France, but it was just too difficult. Not only was I trying to run a business but I was also running behind two small children, a dog and a cat! There just wasn’t enough time in a day in which to write. All that changed once I moved to Switzerland. For one thing, my children were bigger and much more independent. I started refining my business so that I could work fewer hours and suddenly I had something called ‘free time’. My family and closest friends had been pushing me to write for years but it took one last push from a friend visiting me from Chicago in 2010. She finally reached me and made me want to pick up a pad and pen and begin to write. I am so happy that she did.
Was there anything about Paris in particular that jump-started your creativity?
Paris is a contradiction, a Janus coin. It is a place that can propel you forward to meet your future yet compel you to confront your past; it can introduce you to love and heartache all in the same day; and it can teach you everything you need to know about life or nothing all. People (real or imagined) cannot help but be changed one way or another by the experience. As I considered this more, it made me think about all the realistic stories I could tell about living here. I wasn’t always certain what stories I wanted to write specifically, but I knew which ones I didn’t want to tell. I had no interest in writing stories about the single girl meeting her dream guy in the City of Love. I hold nothing against these types of stories (I enjoyed reading them) but living in France as an expat provides a unique perspective on life in that you are always an outsider looking in. This is a perfect view for someone like me who really enjoys people watching and observing human behavior. I wanted to explore these experiences and others to show that life in Paris is often times no different than living someplace else. The same problems and worries still find you – but in a prettier place.
You own MotionTemps, LLC, an international Digital Project and Web Content Management firm and Mondavé Communications, a media relations training and publishing company. You have written, placed articles or been featured in Entrepreneur.com, Expatica.com, Chicago Tribune, Forbes, Wired News, International Herald Tribune, Wall Street Journal, Bonjour Paris, Café de la Soul, PrissyMag and Working Mother... How do you balance this media consulting with fiction writing?
Very carefully! MotionTemps, LLC has been operating for ten years now and media consulting has just become an extension of the company. Most of my career back in Chicago was in public relations and public affairs work. When I started MotionTemps, I thought that it would be a company that assisted smaller companies with administrative needs. The best part of setting up the company that way was the fact that I really got to know my clients very well. As I learned their businesses, I could begin to help them with promotion, thinking outside of preconceived boxes, based on my experiences in marketing and PR. It was an added value. So now the company has evolved a lot of the years. The best part of this is that is runs virtually on its own. I have teams in place to work on projects. I can choose whether I want to work or not. Having this extra time gives me more time to write.
Your first book, Encounters in Paris, is a collection of short stories, which feature, an American PR executive living and working in Paris, whose life is messy and complicated…where did you get your inspiration?
I spend a great deal of time watching other people and observing how they behave or react in different situations. Expatriate life can be difficult so most of my inspiration came from observing that experience through the eyes of different people. I would say that these stories are about 25 percent real and 75 percent imagination. There are two stories that are based on real life but not entirely. ‘A Haunting in Courbevoie’ is based on what happened when my own mother passed away a few years ago. The story, ‘Some Birds of a Feather’, is based on two real pigeons that have set up a home on my kitchen window sill here in Lausanne.
To what extent did you draw from your own experiences?
5 Reasons to Leave a Lover is a very realistic collection but not necessarily based on my personal life. I take my inspiration from everywhere – including the media, stories that I have heard from friends, even situations that I have observed. A lot of this collection is based on a conversation that I overheard between two strangers. Apparently, the man had just learned of his wife’s infidelity and he wanted everyone in that restaurant to know about it! All of my characters share some of my personality traits but that is where the similarities end thankfully. Ellery’s actions are all her own. Actually, that’s the fun part about creating characters. Sometimes characters will do the things that the author would never do in a million years! Sometimes the opposite happens. If you leave characters to their own devices and let them tell their own stories, they develop independently and separately from the author and that is pretty cool!
5 Reasons to Leave a Lover, which came out September 5, is a novella and other short stories which argue that the underlying reasons for leaving a relationship are finite; abuse, ambivalence, deception, cheating and death. How did you come up with these five? Are there any exceptions?
Well, the title of the book was inspired by the Paul Simon song, ’50 Ways to Leave a Lover’. One day while walking down the street in Lausanne, I heard the song blasting from someone’s care radio. I thought, ‘That song only gets it half right: there are many ways to leave a lover but the reasons for leaving in the first place are pretty finite. A person leaves (voluntary or involuntary) because circumstances make it impossible to stay.’ All five of these reasons are represented in the book; three are found in the novella and one in each short story. I came up with these five by reevaluating my own past relationships as well of those of others. When I finished, I was able to reduce them down to these five reasons. Whether I was evaluating those relationships in a literal or figuratively sense, the formula still worked. I don’t think there are any exceptions to the rules. These five reasons seem to encapsulate every situations.
How do you describe your writing style? What do you like about writing fiction?
I am a realist to be sure. I enjoy examining complex relationships. I like making my readers think because there are always lessons to be learned. However, I am not preachy or judgmental. I like creating empathetic characters, people for which readers easily can identify with their circumstances.
Being in Europe has definitely had an influence on my style of writing in that I don’t necessarily believe stories have to end happily. Nor do I believe stories must always have a definitive conclusion. To me, life can be messy, extremely complicated, and the answers to our problems don’t always present themselves in neat little packages. Sometimes there is never a satisfactory answer to life’s trickier questions and that’s okay. Writing in this way certainly provokes a great deal of discussion and that makes me happy.
Now onto your favourites…
Having moved from Chicago to Paris and then to Lausanne, Switzerland…where is your favourite place to live and why?
Wow, that is a very tough question. I guess I will have to explain it this way. I call Chicago my home city; Paris my adopted city and Lausanne my host city and each place remains special for me.
Chicago is my home and that will ALWAYS be the case. Next to President Obama and actor John Cusack, I am probably the city’s greatest ambassador because everyone I meet in Europe knows I am a proud Chicagoan!
Paris, hands down, is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. There is always something to do. The city changed my perspective on life a great deal. That is the place where I finally grew up.
Lausanne is like the Swiss San Francisco. It is funky and has an interesting vibe for such a small city. It is environmentally beautiful and green. It is a great place to raise children because it so safe. Because it is so quiet and private, it is a perfect place to write. There are very few distractions. Other writers throughout history must have felt the same way because since my move here, I have learned that a great many of them (from Mary Shelley to Ernest Hemingway) have park themselves here temporarily in order to finish a work.
My favorite place to think while writing: a garden area at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne.
Winter sky at Ouchy lake front in Lausanne.
Where is your favourite place in Paris to relax?
Where is your favourite place in Paris to celebrate a big event?
I’m getting older but I am still a indie rock chick at heart. I did not get a chance to come this year, but every year I try to come to the Rock en Seine Festival near Paris. It is really fun now that I have a teenager and it is something we can do together. Now I can say, “I saw that band in the 90s” and watch her face scrunch up in utter embarrassment and disgust!
Who is your favourite French author?
Currently, my daughter is reading a lot of Emile Zola in class and I am following along. I really appreciate the realism, something I really try to incorporate into my own writing style.
What are some of your favourite French-related blogs or sites?
Well, it’s not just because of this interview, but I really love this one, My French Life! Others I enjoy include: Secrets of Paris, Girls Guide to Paris, Vignt Paris and Entrée to Black Paris.
What is your favourite French meal?
I should start by saying that I love to eat! I came to France as a very picky eater but all of that has changed. My mother-in-law makes the best homemade Cassoulet. For me, that along with a nice crusty Parisian baguette with a little fois gras spread on it is so tasty. It’s a crime to live in France and not eat very many desserts, but I guess I’m guilty because unfortunately I don’t indulge. However, I must confess, that I have a very sick fascination with Carambars! My children hide them from me, but I like chewing on them while writing.
Thank you Carolyn for taking time out to speak to My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learn about your life and your books.