I wanted a writing challenge, as though my original plan of trying to write a complex mystery filled with twists, red herrings, and a sympathetic hero weren’t enough. Since the hero was a young American who liked literature, I decided to set the mystery in an interesting literary time and place. And so, 1925 Paris became the setting.
This immediately provided the first obstacle. I knew a good deal about the time and place, but not nearly enough to write fluently and with sufficient control over the subject. And so the research began. I re-read Hemingway and Fitzgerald novels, works by Gertrude Stein, non-fictional studies of the era, and whatever else I could find. I watched the films (including, of course, another viewing of Midnight in Paris). I listened to music of the era. I got guidebooks, read newspapers, tracked down the many memoirs.
When I finally felt ready, I cast about for characters. On the one hand, my story was armed with some of the richest characters in American literary history. On the other hand, how was I going to write dialogue between my hero and these witty, startlingly creative people? I didn’t just want to write about the authors. I wanted to have my protagonist helped by someone I deeply admire, Sylvia Beach who found the bookstore Shakespeare and Company. Indeed, I decided to open the book by having the hero enter the store. Writing, I thought, would give me a decent chance to introduce readers unfamiliar with Beach to a most extraordinary person. I had seen videos of her speaking and read what she had written in an attempt to capture her voice. Although she had, with remarkable bravery, published James Joyce’s Ulysses when no one else would, I wanted to write more about Hemingway. He had introduced himself to her by walking into the store, taking off his shoes and socks, and showing Sylvia his war scars. Sylvia Beach fed the writers and painters who needed food and loaned money to others. Her bookstore served many visitors, including Hemingway, as the local post office. She would also help my hero.
My novel began populating itself. The Lost Generation, I decided, would wander through the pages. I particularly enjoyed writing about Gertrude Stein, who terrified some of the writers. I also sought out some of Paris’ seedier locations for my characters to visit. The novel includes a true story of one of the most astounding con games in history. I put a murder mystery into this world and had my protagonist deal with the recurring emotional wounds that opened up in a horrific incident during the First World War. Satisfied that the dramatic material was there, I thought it would make for an exciting if daunting effort to write such a mystery novel.
That novel, Exiles: A Mystery in Paris, is available as a free Kindle ebook for five days, from today through Thursday. To get the book, just go to the Amazon page and download it. Feel free to let others know about this free novel. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.