The Booktopia Book Guru asks
author of Seven Letters from Paris
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I was born in Los Angeles at UCLA hospital in October of 1969, and I led the quintessential beach baby lifestyle…until my biological father drove off into the California sunset, leaving my mom and me in the sand. (Where are those tiny violins when I need them?) After spending some time with the grandparents at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, mom and I packed up our bags and headed to Chicago in 1972. In 1975, my mom married Tony, the only father (and best dad in the world) I’ve ever known. He formally adopted me at the age of ten, shortly before the birth of my sister, Jessica.
A classically trained mezzo-soprano, in 1985 I attended The Chicago Academy for the Performing and Visual Arts, choosing theater as my major. In 1986, because of my father’s rising career in the world of advertising, our family moved to Boston and two years later to London. Along with these moves, my interests and dreams metamorphosed and art became a big part of my life. I traded in arias and monologues for advertising design, graduating cum laude from Syracuse University, and moved back to Chicago.
2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?
I suppose I’ve always been a creative type – a bit of a renaissance woman who believes in self-expression, but without the tattoos. I’m terrified of needles. At the age of twelve, I wanted to be singer or an actress, or maybe a dancer. And I wanted to be Nadia Comaneci, the gymnast. (This last career option was cut short when I tried to back-flip off a mailbox and broke my arm). At the age of eighteen, I wanted to be an artist. And at the age of thirty, I was a graphic designer. It wasn’t until my late thirties I discovered a love for the written word, a place where I could express myself by singing with my voice, acting out scenes, and designing worlds all on a blank page. I’m surprised the writing bug didn’t bite me sooner, considering I’ve been a book omnivore since the age of three. Note: I was an early reader not an actual book eater.
3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?
Like most eighteen-year-olds, I thought I knew everything about everything. As I grew older, I realized I didn’t have the world figured out. At all. In fact, I’m always learning something new. (Currently, the French language and all those dreaded conjugations keep me busy). Although I try to keep the spirit of my inner-eighteen-year-old alive and kicking, I now know that life is about figuring things out one day at a time and that there are no short cuts.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
I’ve traveled the world, lived in many places, and worked many jobs. I’ve been married and I’ve been divorced. I’ve had many successes and more than a few failures— always on the search for the one thing that truly excited me. Then, one day, I finally found everything I’d been looking for: a passion for the written word and true love. Writing not only enabled me to open my heart, it led me to southwestern France, where I’m now married to a sexy French rocket scientist I met over twenty years ago. The above has definitely impacted my life and has opened up a new and exciting career path to me. With two books out on the market, I can now proudly say ‘I’m a writer’ without an affected accent. Damn straight. I’m proud.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? Aren’t they obsolete?
What! Say it ain’t so! Books will never be obsolete! Books shape our lives, challenging us to learn and to think. They transport us and open us to new worlds and ideas. The electronic media avenues support books, not vice versa. I chose to write Seven Letters from Paris because I believe it delivers a message of hope. But to get to that message, I needed a beginning, a middle, and an ending– to tell the whole story. And writing this memoir allowed me to do just that. I’m more than happy to talk about my book on TV or on the radio. And, like any writer, I’d love to see Seven Letters from Paris: The Movie. So if there are any interested parties out there, you can find my contact info on my blog. Can I insert a Dr. Evil laugh here? mwa-ha-ha.
6. Please tell us about your latest book…
Seven Letters from Paris is the true “second chance” story of how I restarted my life and rebooted my heart.
Five years ago, I was on the cusp of turning forty…and a woman on the verge of a potential nervous breakdown. The recent victim of a company wide lay-off, I owed over twenty thousand dollars on three different Visas with no hopes to pay it off. Anger and resentment had taken its toll on what started out as a happy marriage. For eight years, I’d been sharing the guest bedroom with my black Labrador retriever, Ike. I didn’t have actual kids, save for my furry replacement child.
Instead of spinning my wheels on the corner of misery and despair all alone, I met up with my best friend of twenty-something years, Tracey. Over a bottle of pinot noir, our conversation changed from my imminent divorce to happier times, specifically our 1989 trip to Paris. Tracey pitched me an idea: we were going to create a love blog using the seven old love letters I’d received from Jean-Luc, the sexy French rocket scientist I’d met at a café when I was nineteen.
Intrigued by her idea (and looking for an ounce of hope), I pulled Jean-Luc’s letters out of their plastic storage container that very same night. Instead of hope, I found regret. I began questioning things like: why didn’t I have children? Did I really have issues with men because my biological father deserted my mother and me? If Jean-Luc was so special, why did I dump him at a train platform and never answer even one of his seven heartfelt letters? And, more importantly, why did I hang on to his letters?
A realization hit: I’d been so afraid of falling in love I’d never truly done it.
I knew, in order for me to move on and live out the happy life I desperately wanted, I needed to deal with these questions from my past — one regret/problem at a time, starting with the easiest one first. Thanks to Google, it was easy to find Jean-Luc and I got off to a quick start.
When I sent off my two-decade-delayed apology, I thought I was only looking for forgiveness. I wound up getting a lot more than that. One email led to another, and I was able to do something I hadn’t been able to do in the past: I opened up my heart— online. I also found the courage to change everything in my life.
HEA. All the way!
7. If your work could change one thing in this world – what would it be?
People need to open up their hearts, to dare to live and to love big, and to not be afraid to fail along the way. I think many people in this crazy world of ours are terrified of change and taking risks, so I’d like to see that change. We only have one life. It’s up to us to take accountability for our happiness.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
This is going to be a clichéd/canned answer: my mother. She amazes me. I mean, how many women on this planet can say that one of their best friends is their mom? Well, mine is. In fact, she is my best friend. This is not to say we’ve never had our issues. I was a sixteen-year-old once. And she can have her “opinions,” whether I want to hear them or not. But my mom and I grew up together. At the young age of twenty-one, she gave birth to little me and was forced to put her dreams aside. Instead of being bitter, she always surrounded me with love and unwavering support, pushing me to be the best person I could be. Not many people are content living vicariously through somebody else. My mom was…and is. Seven Letter from Paris is not just a story about rekindling a romance with a sexy Frenchman; it’s also a love letter to my mom. Yes, she’s read the book. And, yes, it made her cry– happy tears, of course!
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
Here we go. The cat is about to be let out of the proverbial bag. I’m a genre jumper. Not many writers have romantic memoirs and middle grade books about mutant kids coming out at the same time. (I thought about using a pen name for the MG, but why bother? The truth? It always comes out). With that said, I’d love to write memoir book two, continue writing middle grade, and explore all of my passion projects, one, of which, is a historical fiction/magical realism concept about wine. So, yes, I want to be a successful genre jumper and not hide behind a pen name. Wish me luck?
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Oh, boy! I have a lot of advice. Work on your craft. Connect with other writers. Build up your platform, your social connections. No matter how supportive she is– your mother is NOT a critique partner or a beta reader! And neither is your sister, spouse, or best friend. Put your work out there. Yes, with strangers. Remember that publishing is subjective. Don’t be afraid of rejection. Learn the business of publishing. Never pitch your work as the next big seller. Take critiques with an open mind and don’t get angry. Your writing partners want the best for you. When critiquing others, go for the sugar, salt, sugar method. (What’s good about the story, what needs to be worked on, and what totally rocks). Kill your darlings. (There will be things you think are awesome or funny, but others, simply put, will not). If you’re writing a memoir, hire an editor to work with you on the manuscript before you pitch it to agents and/or publishers. You will need an objective eye. Celebrate your victories…and your defeats. You’re one step closer. Forgive typos; they happen to everybody. Roll up your sleeves, prepare to get dirty, and work hard. Don’t send your work off to an agent or publisher until it’s polished. Revise. Edit. Repeat. Be patient. When you can’t stand to look at your manuscript anymore…it’s ready.
Even if you have to shelve your first manuscript, or the second, no matter how amazing you think it is, don’t let it get you down. The great thing about writing is you can always dust yourself off and turn the page. Write another book. Revise. Edit. Repeat. This business takes guts. Are you ready to earn your racing stripes?
It took me seven years (there’s my number) to get where I am today, meaning two books under my belt. My publishing journey wasn’t easy and there were no short cuts. (Some people get lucky! We will lynch them later.) Alas, the most important advice I can give is: Never give up! It takes an extraordinary amount of courage to put yourself out there. If you really want to be a writer, you can do it.
Sometimes I call myself Seabiscuit. Thankfully, I found the right people who believed in me and pushed me forward. Now that I’ve been trained by the best, it’s off to the races. If I fall down, I’ll just dust off my knees and get back up. Giddy-up.
Samantha, thank you for playing.
by Samantha Verant
In the best romantic tradition of Almost French, a woman falls madly in love with a Frenchman in Paris, but with a twist. It takes her twenty years to find him again …
Samantha’s life is falling apart – she’s lost her job, her marriage is on the rocks and she’s walking dogs to keep the wolf from the door.
When she stumbles across seven love letters from the handsome Frenchman she fell head over heels for in Paris when she was 19, she can’t help but wonder, what if?
One carefully worded, very belated email apology, it’s clear that sometimes love does give you a second chance.
Jetting off to France to reconnect with a man you knew for just one day is crazy – but it’s the kind of crazy Samantha’s been waiting for her whole life.
Truth may be stranger than fiction but sometimes it’s better than your wildest dreams.
Deliciously funny, honest and beyond romantic, Seven Letters is the perfect feel-good gift for any woman with a heartbeat.