Arrivals and departures: 20 years of Paris

June 13, 1995: Arrived at Gatwick...
Twenty years ago today, I set foot on European soil for the first time. It was the summer of 1995. I was 25.

I was a chaperone for a group of high school seniors on their graduation trip to London and Paris thanks to the invitation of one of my best friends, Joy Thomas. The roundtrip flight, two weeks of hotels, dinners, shows and sights cost $1,200. You can't even buy the plane ticket for that now. I jumped at the chance to go. I'd been dreaming of visiting London since I was a kid. But it was Paris that gave me something that I didn't know I needed to find.

On June 17, I checked into a little hotel called the Bel Air on rue Rampon in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. I was exhausted, a little hung over and really wanted nothing more than a working air conditioner. There wasn't one. I opened the window. Such a simple little act – letting in some air  – changed my life.

Paris, 1995
Across rue Rampon was an apartment with a long wrought iron balcony full of flowers. The doors were always open and the interior was lined with bookcases crammed with tomes. There was a big desk with an old typewriter, what appeared to be manuscript pages, and even more books. But I never saw the owner. For a solid week, the doors were always open, but the writer was never at work at the desk. So I invented her in my head: A Parisian widow disabled by agoraphobia, who never leaves her apartment and works as a book editor. At night, she spies on the guests of the hotel with her binoculars. She meets a young American writer who is staying in the room directly across from her apartment and they become embroiled in a mystery filled with unrequited love, strange apparitions, murder and a terrorist bombing. That was the genesis of what would become my novel Conquering Venus, the first book in The Venus Trilogy.

The fact that I've been living with that Parisian widow, Irène Laureux, and that young American writer, Martin Paige, for twenty years boggles my mind. Their story continued in Remain In Light and will conclude in Leaving Paris, which I just sent off to Sibling Rivalry Press a few weeks ago. Irène and Martin are as real to me as many of my friends. They talk to me, they choose where they want to go (and that was certainly the case while I was writing Leaving Paris) and what they want to do. Sometimes, I feel like they are writing me – that I'm the fictional character being made up in their heads.

Irène's balcony on rue Rampon, Paris. 
Irène and Martin told me it was time to let them go, so at the end of Leaving Paris they set off on a journey that surely wasn't my idea. For now, Irène and Martin have gone somewhere I cannot follow, but they have left me with Diane Jacobs and Bernard Sullivan – the wisecracking, loudmouthed, mismatched pair of detectives who have their own stories that need to be told.

Later this summer, I will make another trip to London and Paris to bookend the 20 years that changed my life and gave me three novels when I never thought I'd be able to write one. It has been a privilege and a pleasure to meet so many incredible people – real and imagined – while I've been writing these books. I plan to list them when I write the acknowledgements for Leaving Paris while sitting at the window of that same hotel (now called Le General) on rue Rampon in the 11th arrondissement of Paris. A city of both darkness and light. I will be 45 years old.

I will open the window – to let in some air – and I have a feeling (call it synchronicity, fate, destiny, divine intervention) that's where I'll find the roadmap for the next 20 years of my life.

Comments

Ah, the story behind the stories you have written and, perhaps, the probable story behind the probable stories you have yet to write.

Nice post.

Malcolm
SweetMarie83 said…
This was so lovely it actually made me tear up. It's amazing how the smallest thing can change your life in such unexpected, profound ways. I'm heading to London for the first time on Tuesday, followed by Paris (I went in 2001), and then Rome. I've wanted to write stories with foreign settings for years, but knew I needed to do first-hand research. I have so many ideas, but I'm hoping new ones will emerge from things I see and do, and maybe I'll be inspired in unexpected ways just like you were. :-)
JC said…
I love this post. (I know, not, perhaps a deep comment, but it is surely meant.)
Jennifer Perry said…
I wasn't aware of this story, and in my mind it is synchronicity at its finest! We are all grateful that you did not have an air conditioned room. What a treasure we would have missed.
Lisa Allender said…
Aw Coll-Coll, I love this post, as it is so vulnerable. Much like the vulnerability that is (eventually!) unearthed in Irene'.
Collin Kelley, with "The Venus Trilogy", you have excavated our hearts.
:)

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