Interview: Susan Kiernan-Lewis – Paris, Provence & murder mysteries
Welcome to the ‘MyFrenchLife™ Member Interview Series’ – interviews with savvy Francophiles from all around the world capturing their passion secrets and tips, all about their favourite places in France, from Paris to Provence.
- As you read these interviews you’ll become immersed in the individual member’s ‘French Life’.
- Learn why France is so special in their eyes & how they came to be so passionate about France.
- Discover so much more about France in the process and
- also you’ll personally benefit from the tips & discoveries these savvy Francophile frequent travellers generously share.
Introducing Susan Kiernan-Lewis
Susan Kiernan-Lewis is one of the bestselling authors from America who is famous for writing a number of highly successful novels based on literature & fiction, mystery, thriller, science fiction, and fantasy, cozy mystery, and romantic suspense genres.
Susan is a prodigious author and has authored a number of series, some of which are based in France. I asked Susan to tell us her story, so its best I think to let her just do that.
“My family moved to France when I was nine years old (1962). I now live in Florida and I’ve been back to France many times since.
I had three brothers who went to the American school at Chambley-Bussières Air Base where my father worked (we lived in a village 20 miles away), but I went to the local all-girls’ convent school. It was an indelible experience in that it started me on a lifelong love of all-things-French. I learned French as a child. Our village was Ars-sur-Moselle in Alsace Lorraine (near Metz).
My mother didn’t speak French and so relied on me when we went to Paris to shop (which was an extraordinary feeling for a kid!) My happiest memories are of wandering the city with her, both as a child and later when I was an adult. My mom died last year, in January 2019, at 95, and I went to Paris for Mother’s Day that year to celebrate her in the one place that felt so much like her.”
Susan the author indulges her Francophilia
“I was able to turn my love for France into a small business and so my frequent trips there are tax-deductible! More than that, my business allows me to fully immerse myself in all-things-France and make a living at the same time.
I was an advertising copywriter in my past career, working in shops from New Zealand to Atlanta, Indianapolis and Florida. When the indie writer industry opened up audiences to writers who had stories to tell, I began to do what I’d always dreamed of doing: write novels for a living.
I began to do what I’d always dreamed of doing: write novels for a living.
Perhaps because of my background in advertising, I’m extremely fast and prolific which serves me well as a genre-fiction writer. I write several series—all mystery series—but it’s the ones that I’ve set in France that sell the best. Which is good because they’re the ones I love writing the best too. “
Hence the expat protagonist: the-fish-out-of-water
Because I was a military dependent for my entire childhood my family moved around a lot and I am constantly drawn to fish-out-of-water stories. All of my books in one way or another have to do with an expat protagonist set down in an unfamiliar environment.
Series: Maggie Newberry Mysteries
My first series is the ‘Maggie Newberry Mysteries‘ which involves an American expat protagonist who falls in love with a Frenchman. “Maggie” solves her mysteries surrounding the small village she and her husband live near Aix-en-Provence.
Setting the mystery there ‘forces’ me to visit Provence at least once a year to gather local color and inspiration.
Series: Stranded in Provence
My second series set in France is very different: ‘Stranded in Provence‘.
It’s still set in Provence, based on the village of St-Cannat where a dear Aussie friend of mine and her husband live.
The story opens with the beginning of the apocalypse! I didn’t want this to be a doom-and-gloom storyline so I keep it very light and frothy. An EMP took out all cars and electricity but everything else runs pretty much the same.
I came up with this series idea for two reasons:
Firstly: My experience in France as a child in the 60s was fairly primitive.
- My school didn’t have bathrooms but instead outdoor stalls covered in hay.
- Our playground was a dirt square enclosed by tall stone walls that had been there since before the first World War.
- My brothers and I threw pebbles at wild boars in the hills for amusement to get them to chase us.
- My parents kept our house warm by going into the basement and shoveling coal into the furnace.
- My older brother’s job was to throw rocks at the rats down there so they didn’t get too close to whichever parent was shoveling.
Basically, for a kid, it was heaven!
And secondly, I wanted to focus on those things about France that I loved, that didn’t need electricity—great cooking, wonderful walks through the streets and fields and woods, fellowship around long tables, all the outdoor markets and pastries.
Golden Age of Mysteries
Also, for a mystery writer these days it’s very difficult to create plot lines that can be solved by your sleuth. Because of advanced forensics, it can all be arrived at quickly with a straight-forward DNA analysis.
I wanted to bring the ‘Golden Age of Mysteries‘ back and make it easier on myself as a writer(!) so I cut the power in a rural area of France and plopped in my expat American protagonist.
Series: An American in Paris
My third France-based series is ‘An American in Paris’ Mystery series. Like a lot of writers, I write about what I love and what my heart yearns to explore. That definitely means Paris, which up to now, I hadn’t based a series in.
My protagonist in this series is older because I wanted to write from someone’s perspective who was my age (and honestly a lot of my readers are older too.)
Am I different in Paris? I’m not sure…
I’m not sure that I have a Paris persona.
I don’t think I’m different there but I’m happier for sure. I spent my 60th birthday in Paris a few years back with my husband and son and after a few days of togetherness, I opted to celebrate my actual birthday on my own: just wandering, shopping, sitting in cafes before we all met up for dinner.
It was one of the happiest days of my life. Sheer joy with every step.
And without meaning to I logged 20000 steps that day.
My favourite arrondissement
I love the Latin Quarter and especially the Ile de la Cité mostly because of Notre-Dame. I have so many happy memories of Notre-Dame as a child and I always get peace and joy near it, in its gardens, and of course, attending mass there.
It is my number one most special place on earth.
Having said that, my husband and I always rent the same apartment in the 8th arrondissement and I love the area and the walk from there to the Latin Quarter! I especially love Parc Monceau. My mother used to bring me and my brothers there when we were in Paris and I love watching all the children there. The park is just a few blocks from our apartment.
My favourite places to eat in Paris
- I love Brasserie Balzar in the Latin Quarter.
Many birthday dinners or lunches had here.
It’s elegant but perfect for work-day lunches too.
It’s located on 49 rue des Ecoles.
- Another favorite and it has a Michelin star! is Bistrot du Sommelier, 97, Bd Haussmann in the 8th arr.
It’s near our apartment and we used to go there to celebrate anniversaries but now we just go because it’s amazing and YOLO!
What about shopping when in Paris?
- Well, I always buy demitasse spoons when I’m in Paris (I have way too many that I can use in a lifetime).
- I also buy kitchen dishware, and
- I’m in love with Monoprix!
My most memorable recent experience
My most memorable experience in Paris might be the summer we brought our son there when he was nine: the same age I was when I first saw Paris.
He stood in the square of Notre-Dame with a piece of bread in his hands and the sparrows lined up unafraid on his hands and arms to his sheer delight.
Must visits: museums, exhibitions…
Always the d’Orsay.
Tips – just a few!
Rent an apartment over a hotel.
Get to know the neighborhood.
Try to go for at least two weeks. One week isn’t enough time even if you’ve already done all the touristy stuff to death.
You still need more time to just ‘be’ in Paris.
So that’s me.
I too have a dream of living in France someday but until then, I do my best to ‘live’ there in my books and my annual visits.
Thanks for listening!
Thank you Susan, I found it fascinating to find out more about your ‘French life’. You are, I’m sure, an inspiration to many other members.Judy
What is your ‘French life’ dream? Where is your favourite part of France? Please join the conversation in the comments section below.
And if you’d like to know more about Susan:
- Susan Kiernan-Lewis is a best-selling author and you can follow her on Twitter @SKiernanLewis and Facebook.
- You can buy her books – there are many – so this provides a search link for you.
- You can read more about Susan on her own site.
1. In the Lavender fields (2018)
2. At 10 years and my dad at Frankfurt Zoo during the time we lived in France. (1962)
3. Our house in Ars-sur-Moselle. (1961-1963)
4. Me (at 10 years) waiting for the bus at the Hotel de l’Ocean after a lovely shopping weekend with my mother. (1963)
5. Me (in 2018) with baguette, coming back to the apartment my husband and I rent in the 8th arrondissement which I use for my protagonist’s apartment in the series An American in Paris
6. My husband and I at a café in Paris—taken last Mother’s Day 2019.