Interview: Priscilla Lalisse-Jespersen
Priscilla is the editor and founder of ‘Prissy Mag‘, the online magazine that provides a unique look into Parisian life by Anglophones who live it. She has also written two books, STOCKDALE and Next of Kin.
How would you describe yourself in three adjectives?
Adventurous, warm and optimistic
What is your connection to France?
I was living in Manhattan working as a magazine editor when I met a Frenchman. I didn’t know I’d move to Paris though. Before that, I had actually considered going back to school for a PhD in Literature or going to live in Italy for a year to study the language. But things change! I moved here to Paris in 1999 and now almost 14 years later, I’m still here! Also and perhaps most important, my son is Franco-American, so my ties to France are incredibly strong.
How did teaching both Corporate and General English for five years help you adapt to French lifestyle and culture?
I hardly knew anything about France before moving here, other than the obvious things—they eat snails and other interesting foods, the Eiffel Tower is here, it’s gorgeous, it’s fashionable, etc. I didn’t expect that the French would be so different in terms of personality, outlook, bureaucracy, temperament, well, everything. Teaching English gave me a very special insight into French culture and French people. I wasn’t stuck at home wondering why they don’t smile very much or why they stare you straight in the eye on the metro, or why they don’t actually wear berets. I was asking them. I had the most incredible conversations with my students. It was totally enlightening and one of the best jobs I’ve ever had.
What are your interests outside of writing and online publishing?
Reading! I’m a voracious reader. I read all kinds of books and articles. It’s also great fun to be a part of someone else’s book project. For example, Carolyn Moncel, author of 5 Reasons to Leave a Lover (who was interviewed on My French Life™) just sent me over a few chapters of something she’s working on. It’s terrific fun to be in on someone else’s creative process. It’s wonderful.
Otherwise, I love learning new languages, travelling every chance I get, shopping (yes I’m a woman!), movies, and last but not certainly least, being with my family. My husband is an excellent (and professional) cook and he’s going to start teaching me soon. Up until now I’ve just been eating and not learning!
What inspired you to start writing fiction?
Well I’ve always loved writing—ever since I was nine years old. I’d write anything from Sunday School minutes to little poems. I wrote my first book of short stories when I was 15. The fact is that I need to and want to tell stories. Before I came to Paris, I limited myself to only poetry or magazine articles in New York. I think being here and being surrounded by the beauty of this place was the final thing I needed in order to go for writing a novel. I don’t know when or if I would have started writing books if I were still in New York. I use to think it was a cliché, but it’s true: Paris is inspiring!
You are the Founder and Editor of online magazine Prissy Mag, which gives readers a unique view into everyday life in Paris, as told by Anglophones who live it. How do you balance running this online magazine with fiction writing?
I go through different periods. Sometimes I’m more into writing fiction and I can’t even sleep at night for creating characters in my head; and sometimes I can’t wait to write another magazine article because I’ve just eaten at the most amazing restaurant. I try to balance it out and at the end of the day, I’m always writing something, even if it’s just ideas for one or the other (or both!) in a notebook.
Can you briefly describe your two novels? What inspired these books? To what extent do they draw from personal experience?
My first novel, which was published in 2005, is called STOCKDALE (watch the Book Trailer here!). It takes readers into the life of small-town heroine Cassie Taylor. It’s a coming of age story, a sort of Bildungsroman about a young woman living in Alabama, during the 1980s, where segregation is still rampant. I did grow up in Alabama and in a small town, but I can’t say that the novel is my own personal autobiography. However, there are indeed similarities. I think it’s hard for a writer not to write about what he/she knows (in varying degrees) at least in some respects. The best part was the imaginative part though. Writing fiction is so much fun.
My second book, Next of Kin (watch the Book Trailer here!) is a memoir about the death of my father to cancer in June 2011. This one wasn’t fun at all however, but I wanted to write it because it was such a difficult thing to go through. It wasn’t only the sudden loss itself, but dealing with it and living it from thousands of miles away.
Everything was compounded and complicated. I am sure to be among many others who have experienced this terrible experience and it was important for me to write about it. One very positive thing though is that I am donating half of all proceeds from the sale of the book to the Joe Lee Griffin Hope Lodge in Birmingham, Alabama.
The Hope Lodge provides housing to cancer patients who live far from the hospital (UAB) during their cancer treatment. I am really happy to work with them because they do an amazing thing for people. I’ve seen it first hand and it’s truly wonderful.
How do you describe your writing style?
Hmmm… that’s a good question. Direct? Witty (I try)? Thought provoking? Real? Informative? when it comes to articles. Someone once told me that when she was reading Stockdale she felt like the main character was speaking directly to her, like a friend. Another reader told me that when she read Next of Kin she cried and related to it 100 per cent. Both of those make he happy.
Now onto your French favourites…
What are some of your favorite French-related blogs?
In addition to ‘Prissy Mag‘ there are tons. A lot of these are our partners and some of them we’d love to work with eventually: ‘Entrée to Black Paris‘, ‘Perfectly Paris‘, ‘Girl’s Guide to Paris‘, ‘Bonjour Paris’, ‘Parisian Events‘, ‘Feels Like Home in Paris‘, ‘Cafe de la Soul‘, ‘Paris Set Me Free‘, ‘Lost in Cheeseland‘, ‘I Prefer Paris‘…
Who is your favorite French author?
Where is your favorite place in Paris to write?
At home actually. But I’ll jot down notes anywhere and especially love doing it at Café Monceau: a great place to people watch.
Where is your favorite place in Paris to relax?
Where is your favorite place in Paris to celebrate a big event?
Chez moi! My husband’s a chef so when he goes into the kitchen to create something it’s quite impressive. It’s like being at a Michelin-starred restaurant, no kidding.
Which is your favorite art gallery or museum in Paris?
The Louvre! I can’t get enough of that place.
Thank you Priscilla for taking time out to interview with My French Life™. We’ve enjoyed getting to know you and learning more about Prissy Mag and your books.If you would like to learn more about Priscilla and her writing, you can see her Author‘s page.
Have you read any of Priscilla’s books? What did you think?