Where to Write: It’s all in the Café
by Corinne LaBalme
I’m lucky enough to live in Paris, where the words ‘I’m a writer’ garner a modicum of respect rather than financial-oriented pity. The words work even better if you say them with heavy American accent. After all, any of us scribblers hunched over a notebook could be the next Ernest Hemingway, James Baldwin, or Gertrude Stein, ex-pats who did their best work (and certainly their best networking) in the City of Light.
Hemingway described his wine-soaked, Montparnasse writing haunts in detail but since I write best in the morning, I prefer caffeine to prime the pump. However, when drinking coffee at home, I end up dusting the tops of light bulbs and cleaning out the fridge instead of settling down to work. I need a dedicated place to write. I need an office with a coffee pump.
And I found it.
When I moved to the northwest edge of Paris 20 years ago, my neighborhood was pleasantly scruffy, chock-a-block with no-name hotels that promised ‘all modern conveniences like running water and electricity.
Today? Well, in my opinion, the neighborhood’s gone down. It’s become a haven for craft beer, edgy interior design boutiques, and vegan bakeries. Many of the old-time shops have been forced out by high rents but happily, one café has steadfastly resisted gentrification. The upholstery of its faux-leather booths is held together with duct tape; a steady, loyal group of clients show up at 8 am for white wine every day; and the television blasts lotto wins and OTB action from the racetrack.
That’s where FRENCH GHOST was written.
Melody Layne, the ghost-writer heroine of this cozy mystery, spends a lot of her time in cafés too. However, since Melody Layne has clinched a three-month apartment swap in a Paris neighborhood that’s been chic since the 17th century, her local is a lot snazzier than mine.
Melody’s corner café serves fresh salmon and roast chicken with herb-flecked gratin potatoes at lunch and dinner. Mine manages ham and cheese sandwiches round the clock but the frites that accompany them are bought by the kilo-bag at the frozen food depot down the street.
But whether snooty or sleazy, whether the clientele gathers at the bar to sip cappuccino or swill cheap box wine, cafés are where the action is in Paris and that’s why so many scenes in FRENCH GHOST are set in them.
On Melody’s first day in Paris – where she’s relocated to pen the memoir of an infamous French movie star – she learns of the actor’s tragic death from a second-hand newspaper left on the café table next to hers. When she needs money, she pins an ad offering English lessons on the corkboard next to the café’s cash register.
She first meets the handsome but enigmatic Carlos Ortega for coffee (and a heady soupçon of sexual attraction) in the glitzy Café de la Paix next to the Paris Opéra. In later chapters, they rendez-vous for café au lait and back-chat at coffee shops in swanky Trocadéro; for mass quantities of the wine-of-the-day near the art museum in Bordeaux while Carlos winds down from a police interview; and on the sunny sidewalks of Cannes as they argue about their attendance at the Film Festival gala honoring the memory of Carlos’s detested father.
In a scene that I especially enjoyed writing, Melody stakes out Swedish supermodel Ingrid Svenson (who could be a valuable source for her book) from a sidewalk café facing the model’s fancy Vichy spa-hotel. Melody hadn’t counted on sitting next to one of the model’s teenage sons who pleads with her to guard his guilty secret – Coca Cola – from his rigidly diet-conscious mum.
Right now, I’m writing this at my regular table next to the window. My fingers and feet are freezing, since this joint doesn’t go in for pantywaist extravagances like heating, but the conversations betwixt the tables and the bar are warm as ever. Given the latest round of covid restrictions, people are not supposed to consume at the counter (where beer and coffee are a few centimes less than at a table) but as this is the only bar in the area that caters to people for whom a few centimes really make a difference, the benevolent management isn’t making a fuss.
What am I feeling right now as I look around at the decidedly unfashionable crowd I’ve come to know and love so well? A twinge of guilt for having Melody and Carlos stage all their business and romantic dates in trendy, cloth-napkin cafés that any tourist can find with ease.
In Book III, which I’ve just started writing, Melody will have her first – albeit weird – business meeting with an incognito influencer in MY café: crumbs on the floor, sticky table-tops, and floors mopped every week… whether they need it or not. That’s a promise!
About The Book:
French Ghost (Paris Ghost Writer Series)
Ghost-writer Melody Layne is stranded in Paris when the over-sexed but unloved French movie star who hired her to produce his memoir accidentally drowns before the interviews begin. It’s a major financial relief when his enigmatic Spanish son re-hires her, but the seductive Carlos Ortega is strangely silent about his reasons for funding a feel-good bio about a father that he clearly despised. There’s enough amour in the air for Melody to ignore this apparent paradox… at least until she uncovers a hidden cache of death threats addressed to the actor. For the French police, the sexy, secretive Spaniard – and sole heir to the actor’s immense fortune – is suddenly a prime murder suspect. Can Melody’s research into the Ghosts of Carlos-Past be enough to save her lover from prison?
Purchase Link: Amazon
About The Author
My first jobs after college (incredibly useful art history degree) were in the New York fashion industry (modeling, working for designers). When I gave up on my Greenwich Village walk-up (after realizing that I couldn’t bear to smoosh the cockroaches in my shower because they were a ‘family’), I cut out to Paris where I became Fashion Editor for the English language magazine PASSION.
I subsequently wrote and edited the gourmet destination guide LA BELLE FRANCE for fifteen years while freelancing for the NEW YORK TIMES Travel section, various in-flight magazines, and guide books (GAULT MILLAU, VIRGIN, ZAGAT). From 2011 – 2012, I wrote screenplays for the PBS travel series CUISINE CULTURE.
The cinema figures in FRENCH GHOST are loosely based on stars I’ve interviewed (and been groped by); the restaurateurs in Book 2 (FRENCH TOAST) are drawn from the lovely, often impractical, chefs I met through LA BELLE FRANCE.
I suspect that Book 3 will toss Melody Layne into the cut-throat Paris fashion scene. May the Gods of Ghosting have mercy on her soul…
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