Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Juliet Blackwell Interview - The Paris Showroom


Photo Content from Juliet Blackwell

Juliet Blackwell is the New York Times bestselling author of several novels based in France, including The Paris Showroom, The Vineyards of Champagne, and The Paris Key. She also writes the Witchcraft Mystery series and the Haunted Home Renovation series. As Hailey Lind, Blackwell wrote the Agatha-nominated Art Lover’s Mystery series. A former anthropologist, social worker, and professional artist, Juliet is a California native who has spent time in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France.

        
  

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
Receiving letters from people who have gotten something important from my books. Whether my novels have offered them an escape from everyday life, or sustained them during a difficult time, or they have felt a deep emotional connection of some kind, it is beautiful and humbling to realize that my words have become part of someone’s life. Like most authors, I’m a reader first, and as a reader I know how important books have been for me during some of the most trying and perplexing moments of my life; it is an honor to think my stories might have offered the same to others.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received from another author?
Sit your butt in a chair and write. You can’t wait for inspiration. As frustrating as it can be, you have to do the work, make the time, and open up the psychic space so the muse of writing can find you!

Beyond your own work (of course), what is your all-time favorite book?
Oh, that’s a really tough one! I read very widely, from horror to literary fiction to non-fiction, depending on my mood. I just re-read an old favorite: Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye. She’s a genius, and that book speaks to me on so many levels. I pick it up every decade or so, and it always has something new to show me.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m currently working on two very different projects: One is a mother/daughter “women’s fiction” book based at a castle reconstruction in France; the other is a standalone paranormal, set in a historic spiritualist mansion in the remote California gold country.

Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about your newest book, THE PARIS SHOWROOM?
The Paris Showroom was inspired by the true but little-known story of a Nazi prison camp in the heart of Paris, inside a department store called Lévitan. Hundreds of prisoners were kept in the attic and forced to sort, clean, and repair items looted from Jewish homes and businesses. Trainloads of this plunder–everything from antiques to saucepans and children’s toys – were then sent back to Germany to enrich the Nazi faithful. But the finest art, jewelry, china, and other valuables were set out on the showroom floor so that the Nazi elite and their wives and mistresses could stroll through Lévitan and choose what they liked, while the prisoners were forced to serve as shop clerks. In the novel, a skilled couture fan-maker, Capucine Benoit, is accused of being a communist and saves herself from deportation to Aushwitz by using her design talents in order to be assigned instead to Lévitan. Meanwhile, her estranged daughter, Mathilde, is coached by her grandparents to “accommodate” the Nazis. They both do what they must to survive the German Occupation, and through the course of the war they find a way back to one another, and to better versions of themselves.

What do you hope for readers to be thinking when they read your novel?
When readers read The Paris Showroom, I hope they think about how, in the midst of war, Capucine and Mathilde must not only survive, but learn about each other as women, and repair their shared past as mother and daughter. In addition, they come to confront very intimate, difficult aspects of themselves, and learn to accept who they are.

We often learn about battles and military strategy when we study history in school, but ultimately, war is experienced at the utmost personal level. How do people eat, sleep, go about their lives while living under the constant threat of violence? What kind of impact does it have on family, on loved ones, on the future? I spend a lot of time in France, and even now, so many decades later, the shadow of WWII is still felt very deeply; the German Occupation left an indelible mark on the landscape and on its people.

What part of Capucine did you enjoy writing the most?
Capucine is conflicted about certain things she has done in her own life, and in some ways she feels as though she deserves to be imprisoned. As I mentioned above, I’m always interested in how war and other overarching societal conflicts are experienced at the most intimate, personal levels. Capucine has to learn to forgive herself for her past, and to take certain actions to redeem herself in the present

What was your unforgettable moment while writing THE PARIS SHOWROOM?
When I first discovered it! The photos, the building. I had no idea that such a place existed in the heart of Paris – and neither did my French friends, many of whom were Parisian themselves. The prisoners there did not speak much about their experiences upon release, and when the truth came out about the extermination camps in Germany and Poland the experiences of those held in the Lévitan department store were overshadowed. The building that housed the Lévitan store is still there, though it now serves as offices for an architectural firm.

If you could introduce one of your characters to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would love to introduce Capucine to Claire, from Letters from Paris. I think the two would have a lot in common. They have both struggled with themes of their mother/daughter relationships, and they both managed to create themselves as strong, fulfilled women in their own ways. And they share a love of art and artisanship!

What is something you think everyone should do at least once in their lives?
I think everyone should travel, if at all possible. There’s something very humbling -- in a good way!-- about feeling foolish while trying to navigate an unfamiliar culture, and being continually challenged by the language. I believe it helps us be more openminded and compassionate towards others.

TEN FAVORITE GUY CHARACTERS FROM YOUR BOOKS, INCLUDING RANDOM FACTS ABOUT THEM.
Oh! This is a fun one, because I have a lot of books to choose from!
  • From my Art Lovers Mystery Series:
    Michael, a charming art thief…*sigh*
    Frank, the opposite of an art thief, but the kind of straight guy you’d love to corrupt
  • From my Witchcraft Series:
    Aidan, a powerful witch with plenty of dark secrets in his past
    Sailor, a passionate psychic with plenty of dark secrets in his present
  • From my Haunted Home Renovation Series:
    Bill Turner, the father of the main character, Mel. Bill is gruff but loyal, grouses a lot but loves to cook and nurture the people he loves
  • From the Vineyards of Champagne:
    Jérôme, a vineyard owner who tends to his vines during the day and reads poetry at night in his own private library
    Emile, a farmer and beekeeper who is sent to battle in WWI, and who falls in love with a brave young woman hiding in the wine caves
  • From Off the Wild Coast of Brittany:
    Jean-Luc, a midlevel civil servant who has raised his family and now wants something exciting out of life, so impulsively moves to a remote island
  • From The Paris Showroom:
    Ezra – a calm, soft-spoken man who maintains his love for humanity despite unspeakable tragedy
    Charles – a kind, funny musician who has endured great injustice in life. He loves Capucine fiercely, and without regret, despite everything.
Your Favorite Quotes/Scenes from THE PARIS SHOWROOM
Does it count to start with a quote written by someone else? It’s one of my favorites: “what didn’t you do to bury me/but you forgot I was a seed.”

The line is often misidentified as a Mexican proverb, but it was actually written by the Greek author, Dinos Christianopoulos. It’s a perfect epigraph for The Paris Showroom, because the characters never really know who they are until they are “buried” and eventually find it within themselves to rise up.

One of my early favorite scenes is when 21-year-old Mathilde’s school friend, Bridgette, shows up at her house in the middle of the night and asks for help. Bridgette confides to Mathilde that she has been working for the Résistance. Mathilde is afraid to get involved and worried for her friend, but she is also intrigued.

The nuns had taught them how a light passing through a prism was refracted, displaying a rainbow of colors previously hidden. Being with Bridgette felt like that now, and Mathilde doubted she would ever again see Bridgette without an array of color around her.

Mathilde was terrified.

She was exhilarated.

Mathilde knew that she, too, had just passed through a prism, never again to exist in that pale pink innocence of the past.


Another fun scene is when Capucine has decided to try to smuggle out of Lévitan some stolen personal papers. The scene depicts a seemingly small step of resistance, one which could put her life at risk, if discovered:

“Let’s give this a try.”

Ezra’s hands were warm and gentle as he wrapped some papers around my upper arms and secured them with twine, then did the same with my thighs and waist. I felt equal parts frightened and excited, and could not decide if my reaction was due to the risk of smuggling the papers out or the strange intimacy of Ezra’s hands on my skin.

To camouflage the reason for my newly bulky appearance, we stuffed straw into the front, back, and sides of my dress. I looked as if I had gained thirty pounds, but I could explain it away by claiming the straw kept me warm in the back of the truck on the ride to Abrielle’s apartment.

“How do I look?” I asked Ezra with a smile, holding my arms out, feeling very much like a stuffed scarecrow from an illustration in a children’s book.

He gave me a slow smile.

“Like a plump little pigeon, sparkling from within.”


The Paris Showroom is about humans reaching out and daring to love, despite everything. Following a traumatic, violent event in the Lévitan prison camp, the main character, Capucine, is sitting and speaking with another prisoner, a man named Ezra.

“I think I needed to be reminded,” said Ezra.

“Reminded of what? That the Nazis think we’re trash? That they’re just as happy if we die?”

“I never forget that.” Ezra shook his head. “But when we are stripped of all things, we are left with nothing but our humanity. Nous sommes dépouillés: no property, no pride, no ambition, no pretense. Not even family connections. It’s as though we are melted down and all that is left is who we are deep within at our core. Our essence. And we are forced to accept it, to acknowledge our essential truth. That is the gift.”

He placed his hand over mine.

“One of my truths,” he said, “is that I love you, Capucine.”

And finally, there’s a scene between the long-estranged mother and daughter, Capucine and Mathilde, in which Mathilde does not recognize her own mother. Overcome with emotion, she resorts to using “the language of fans”:

The bell rang out over the door, and a beggar walked in.

“One moment,” Mathilde said as she ducked into the kitchen to get a heel of bread. “I’m sorry. It’s not much but it’s all I have just now.” She handed the bread to the gaunt woman and returned to her place behind the counter. “If you come back tomorrow, I’ll see if I can get a piece of fruit or something to make a sandwich.”

The starving woman in the headscarf stood stock-still, the bread cupped in her hands “Mathilde?” the woman croaked, her voice weak.

Capucine.

Mathilde opened her mouth but could not think of what to say. Instead, she reached for the fan her mother had made for her twenty-first birthday. She had kept it on the counter beside her while she worked, always.

She flicked it open, then closed.

Touching tip with finger . . . I wish to speak with you

Drawing across the eyes . . . I am sorry

Touch to heart . . . You have my love

“Always,” Capucine said, grinning even as she started to sob. She touched her own hand to her heart. “You have my love always, ma chère fille.”


In Nazi-occupied Paris, a talented artisan must fight for her life by designing for her enemies. From New York Times bestselling author Juliet Blackwell comes an extraordinary story about holding on to hope when all seems lost.

Capucine Benoit works alongside her father to produce fans of rare feathers, beads, and intricate pleating for the haute couture fashion houses. But after the Germans invade Paris in June 1940, Capucine and her father must focus on mere survival—until they are betrayed to the secret police and arrested for his political beliefs. When Capucine saves herself from deportation to Auschwitz by highlighting her connections to Parisian design houses, she is sent to a little-known prison camp located in the heart of Paris, within the Lévitan department store.

There, hundreds of prisoners work to sort through, repair, and put on display the massive quantities of art, furniture, and household goods looted from Jewish homes and businesses. Forced to wait on German officials and their wives and mistresses, Capucine struggles to hold her tongue in order to survive, remembering happier days spent in the art salons, ateliers, and jazz clubs of Montmartre in the 1920s.

Capucine’s estranged daughter, Mathilde, remains in the care of her conservative paternal grandparents, who are prospering under the Nazi occupation. But after her mother is arrested and then a childhood friend goes missing, the usually obedient Mathilde finds herself drawn into the shadowy world of Paris’s Résistance fighters. As her mind opens to new ways of looking at the world, Mathilde also begins to see her unconventional mother in a different light.

When an old acquaintance arrives to go “shopping” at the Lévitan department store on the arm of a Nazi officer and secretly offers to help Capucine get in touch with Mathilde, this seeming act of kindness could have dangerous consequences.
You can purchase The Paris Showroom at the following Retailers:
        

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you JULIET BLACKWELL for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of The Paris Showroom by Juliet Blackwell.

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5 comments:

  1. My most treasured memory was when my son was born

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  2. The last night with my daughter before she passed away.

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  3. My most treasured memory is being in Israel with my friends in 2018.

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  4. I remember my first night away from my parent's house. Sweet freedom.

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