Today we meet Aurelia d’Andrea, a U.S. expatriate who, after questioning what she wanted to do with her life, found herself living in a city she loved: Paris. There she started to follow her dream of becoming an author and successfully published her first book. Here she shares her story of how her first book came about and offers practical advice for budding expatriate authors who would like to publish their own novels.
Can you please tell us a little about your background and what initially made you move to Paris?
I half-jokingly refer to it my early-onset midlife-crisis move, but the transition was really a quest for creative inspiration. I’d recently quit my job as a magazine editor, taken a leave of absence from my graduate school program, and asked myself, “what is it you really want to do?” Turns out I what I wanted most was to move back to Paris, where I’d lived for a year once before. If inspiration is what you’re looking for, this is your city. You’ll find it in the architecture, the artistic and literary history, the daily trips to the boulangerie and outdoor markets, and in the characters that inhabit this complex and fascinating urban landscape. If you couldn’t tell, I love living here!
What were your first impressions of Paris? Did you suffer from culture shock? How did you deal with your initial emotions?
Despite having lived here before, I did suffer a bit from culture shock. It’s crowded—far more densely populated than my native San Francisco—and learning to share that little bit of breathing room with 2 million others took some getting used to. Probably the most difficult thing to adapt to, though, was the inability to fully express myself verbally. To be able to tell the old man cutting in line in front of me at the supermarket, for instance, that he should kindly move to the back of the line. That sort of thing can be very frustrating! I’ve dealt with that frustration by taking French classes at my local association (non-profit organization), where twice a week I meet up with two fellow immigrants and one very patient teacher for a couple of hours of instruction. It’s done wonders for improving my speaking and comprehension skills.
What are your favorite things about living in Paris?
I love the time-warp feel of living here. Sometimes it really seems as if we’re stuck in the 1950s. People say “good day” and hold doors open for you (men even do it for other men), and when you are asked “how are you today?” the expectation is that you’ll give an honest answer and stop to chat awhile. I love that. I also love the little rituals that feel so utterly French: dining outdoors, leisurely afternoons at the café, foraging for seasonal treats at colorful marchés, and the prioritizing of “life” over “work.”
What things do you least enjoy?
In Paris, it’s polluted, crowded, and noisy. There’s nothing nice about that! But this is typical of most urban metropolises—not just the one I happen to live in. French bureaucracy would have to be my biggest complaint, but I’m so used to it now that it’s not acutely bothersome. Basically, things take a lot of time to get done, whether it’s simply activating your internet service or getting your titre de sejour. You quickly learn the value in building a paper trail—copies of ID, proof of address, birth certificate—as soon as you set foot on French soil. Ask any American in France and she’ll tell you it’s all about the dossier.
What advice would you give to someone who was relocating to Paris for the first time?
First and foremost, arm yourself with at least a very basic understanding of French. The “rude French” stereotype is rooted, I think, in Anglocentrism, but it’s not fair to expect everyone else in the world to speak English. If you make the littlest effort to speak French in France, the locals will always meet you half-way. I promise! Next, it’s important to prepare yourself for the inefficiency—by American standards—of French bureaucracy. The system here demands patience, so if you’re not a patient person already, prepare to evolve into one, for your own sanity’s sake!
While living in Paris you wrote your own book. Please tell us what the book is about?
Living Abroad in France is a how-to guide for everyone who’s ever dreamed of living in France. There are photos, maps, and snapshot profiles written by other expats who’ve made the move. Those first-person narratives are my favorite part of the book! From these guest interviews, I learned what it’s like to give birth in a French hospital, what attitudes toward gays and lesbians in France are like, and how a college student found the perfect language school. I think others will find them fun and informative reads, too.
Why do you think your book needed to be written? What will it do for other people? How will it help?
For those committed to making the move here, Living Abroad in France will take a lot of the stress out of the planning phase by equipping the reader with solid, tried-and-true information and resources. It also serves as a source of inspiration and motivation. My hope is that readers will follow their dreams and have a life-changing, unforgettably wonderful experience living in France, as I have.
How did you publish your book? Did you find an agent, a publisher or did you publish it yourself? Please describe your process and tell us how you found the experience.
Moon Travel Guides have been around for nearly 40 years and are a respected name in the travel publishing industry. When a friend mentioned that Moon was looking for a writer for Living Abroad in France, I leapt at the chance to apply for the gig. The interview process was a long and rough road, but what a thrill to learn I’d landed the job! The experience, from beginning to end, was intense—a short deadline, a very lengthy manuscript, and so much research and interviewing—but I’d do it all again if I had the chance, even if it means being housebound for four months straight!
What three top tips can you offer to expatriates who are considering writing their own books?
It depends on the type of book you plan to write, but first and foremost, stay focused and disciplined. Your book’s never going to get written if you don’t sit down and write it!
Before pitching a publishing house with your idea, make sure that what you’re proposing hasn’t been done already, and if it has, that your idea has a brilliant twist or angle that sets it apart from others of its ilk. There are a scads of guidebooks on Paris and France, for instance, but very few focused on moving to France. Readers are more likely to pay for your title if it’s something they’ve never seen before, can’t find anyplace else, or is in some other way novel.
It’s a really exciting time in publishing right now, particularly when you look at the growth of self-publishing. Whether writing your memoirs, a cookbook, or your first novel, you should always consider the DIY approach. With e-books especially, it can be a simple, affordable alternative to traditional publishing, which is known to be a challenge to break into.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a green guide to France for hip travelers who want to experience all the cool things France has to offer—museums, scrumptious food, beautiful countryside, famous landmarks—but with a vegan twist. This is the ultimate guide for visitors who love multi-cultural cuisine, off-the-beaten path exploration, and eco-friendly fun. I can’t wait to share it with everyone!
And finally, where can people buy your book?
Online, you can find it at Amazon and Barnes & Noble, to name two of the biggies. It’s also available at independent bookstores and big-name shops throughout North America and beyond.