Interview with French Lessons author, Ellen Sussman

When I heard Ellen Sussman on SheWrites Radio with Meg Waite Clayton and Carleen Brice, talking about the “feminine tosh” debacle and her novel, French Lessons, I knew she was “perfect” for Women’s Fiction Writers.

I think you’ll agree! 

Interview with author Ellen Sussman

ASN: How did you come up with the premise for French Lessons, your latest novel?

ES: I was asked to teach at the Paris Writers Workshop one summer. I invited my husband along because it was our anniversary, but then realized I wouldn’t have much time to spend with him. So I bought him a gift of a week of French lessons with a tutor I found on Craigslist. She suggested walking lessons — they could wander the streets of Paris and speak French. Great idea! Until he met her — she was gorgeous! I had bought my husband a beautiful young Frenchwoman for an anniversary gift! Luckily we survived the week, and I had an idea for a novel — what might happen if a happily-married man falls in love (or lust) with his French tutor. I invented two more characters so that I’d have a chance to tell a bigger story about Americans in Paris.

ASN: French Lessons, is set in Paris.  I read in your bio that you’ve lived in Paris — among other places.  I was also a bit of a nomad until about a dozen years ago. How have the places you’ve lived impacted the settings for your novels?

ES: I could not have written FRENCH LESSONS without having had the experience of living in Paris. For the five years that I lived there I was constantly taking notes — some mental, some real — about my observations, more experiences, my impressions. When I started writing FRENCH LESSONS, years after I’d left Paris, it all poured into the novel. And I’m very interested in what happens to us when we travel. We’re outside of our comfort zone — we’re challenged to see things differently, to experience the world in a new way. I’m always exploring that in my fiction.

ASN: What is your process for getting a first draft out of your head and into your computer (or where ever you type it)?  Are you a pantser or a plotter — or as I like to call it — a combo platter?

ES: I write a fast and furious first draft — discovering my characters and plot as I go. I have some vague notion about story, but I don’t decide what will happen until my characters start to lead the way. That makes for a messy first draft — so I have to do many rewrites. But I like to work that way — it helps me find a truer story.

ASN: Are you working on a new novel?  Can you (will you?) share with us what it’s about?

ES: Yes, I’m almost finished with the new novel. It’s called THE PARADISE GUEST HOUSE. the story: a woman is caught in the 2002 terrorist attacks in Bali and returns to the island five years later to find the man who saved her. Yes, it’s another exotic location!

ASN: There’s a lot of talk about women’s fiction – what it is and what it’s not. How do you define women’s fiction?

ES: That’s a tough one. It’s such an odd name for a genre. I like to read books that have good stories which are well-told. That’s my ideal blend of commercial fiction and literary fiction. In commercial fiction, the writing is often lacking. In literary fiction, the story is often lacking. I want both in a book — and I write that way as well. Is that women’s fiction? Maybe.

ASN: What is your best advice for aspiring authors of women’s fiction?

ES: Two things: 1. Find a good writing schedule for yourself and stick to it. Daily writing is best, but not everyone can make that happen. Even if you can only write one day a week, make that your weekly habit. 2. Find a writers group or a writing class. Writing is solitary and crazy-making work — we need to find support and friendship along the way.

Ellen Sussman is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel, French Lessons, published by Ballantine in 2011. Her first novel,On a Night Like This, was a San Francisco Chronicle Best-Seller. It has been translated into six languages. She is also the editor of two anthologies, Dirty Words: A Literary Encyclopedia Of Sex and Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave, which was a New York Times Editors Choice and a San Francisco Chronicle Best-Seller. Her website is

4 thoughts on “Interview with French Lessons author, Ellen Sussman

  1. What an intriguing premise! That put French Lessons on my to-be-read list immediately.

    Thanks for showing a great example of how real life can provide a jumping-off point for some wonderful fiction.


  2. Pingback: French Lessons. A book give away. | Single Mom Seeking

  3. Pingback: French Lessons. A book give away. | Do Me Dolls

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s