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Author Topic: Frenched (memoir) Revision #1  (Read 461 times)
Dribbydrawers
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« on: August 24, 2017, 07:25:25 AM »


Okay, I've revised this tremendously so that it starts in a different place, and hey, there's even an allusion to sex! Does this seem improved?

Sincerely,

Dribbydrawers



 “So we were thinking about going to this bar in town. Do you want to come?”
     I gazed at the faces of the people around me, several I had just met, my new boss I had encountered in the past summer, and my friend from the States, who had just asked the question, in English, no less. I looked into those pretty blue eyes of hers I knew so well. They were framed by long lashes, heavily made up with black mascara. Staring at them was like looking through a window to a world of fun, knowing that the shade could descend at any second, and the opportunity to join the party would end if I didn’t jump through the pane. I glanced at the group again. Barely knowing anyone here, unfamiliar with the territory, and causing the headaches of a few by my very late arrival, I had no social capital that I could use to decline the invitation. Besides, had I ever said “no” to her?
     “Um, yeah,” I mumbled back in English. “That sounds good”.
     A few curt nods launched in my direction and the group sorted itself into cars. I slunk in the back seat of the cream Renault Cinq, embarrassed for my tardy arrival, slightly exhilarated at the prospect of going out, slightly angry for furthering my exhaustion, and reviewed my relationship with her.
     She had been President of the college French Club when I joined, so she had established herself as a leader in the group most formally. Informally, she took me under wing, inviting me to events, divulging the latest gossip, and creating intrigues among our circles, as if Madame de Merteuil lived and breathed in a college setting. When she graduated and left to be an au pair in France, I became the new President, and things dulled a little, until I became her unwitting Cecille of sorts.
     “People on both sides of the Atlantic know that we’re dating,” my linguistics professor stated tensely one evening in his apartment. I had tried to be discreet, but I was not clever. One of the French exchange students in our French Club had correctly surmised that my paper bag of supplies for our Reunion Francaise not only contained items for a public gathering, but those for a private one as well. I had denied it when he confronted me, but my cheeks reddened and he had taken his deduction straight to my friend when he returned to France. She of course, had told everyone else. If I had had any kind of reputation as a Sensible Young Woman, it had perished by then, and hardly anyone in our group sought my company after that. Naturally, his reputation had been elevated in the process, especially among men my age. I, of rather large breasts, was a consenting adult, albeit twenty years younger, so he suffered nothing beyond a raised eyebrow among his peers. Eventually, the professor and I stopped dating, which rendered my independent study of French Phonetics with him the next semester especially awkward, but we managed it without further disgrace.
     Apparently, my indiscretions had been forgiven, or perhaps I had forgiven my friend for talking about me behind her back, because when she came back, I willingly spent time with her. She regaled me with her tales of being an au pair with this family, enchanting me with episodes of skiing in the mountains, hibernating in a chateau, clubbing nearly every weekend with the parents and their friends, eating local treats, and basically living a life that I could never have fathomed for an au pair, much less for myself.
        “How does a French family acquire an American au pair when so many English speakers live in neighboring countries?” I asked her. For this family the explanation was one of simplicity and fate. As people who lived near to the Alps and valued vacations,  they skied frequently. During one trip, they met a young American woman shopping in a boutique. Having found her very interesting, they also saw the benefit of her teaching English to their young sons – Douglas and Sylvestre. Additionally, they learned that the minimum pay to a foreign au pair equated to roughly three hundred dollars plus room and board per month. Compared to the cost of real childcare, either in a nursery or through a paid European Union worker, hiring the foreign au pair was a true bargain.
      Number One Au Pair earned their respect immediately. Personable and entertaining, she embodied every good stereotype about jovial Americans. She played with the children who were too young to attend school anyway. She took them everywhere, including the library, the YMCA, soccer games, restaurants, on nature walks, and anywhere that might spark their interest. She cooked satisfying American dishes, learned the French ones, introduced herself to many people, and even sang at local clubs. In short, she was FUN! The parents were so enamored of her; they even gave up their large bedroom to her to provide her the best comfort in the house, and maybe, the ability to come and go in the wee hours of the mornings without disturbing them as that bedroom was closest to the front door. Number One had a wonderful time and made a deep and lasting impression on the family in the mountains. Having such a success with the first American nanny, the family accepted her good friend, who was also my friend, as the second au pair.
     Number Two Au Pair came from a family of teachers and had graduated with a teaching degree so that she naturally encouraged the children in all of their lessons once they began school. She loved the boys and was very convivial, which translated to her making many friends in the mountains. Stateside, she had used her social prowess to begin the French Club at the local university, which I did my best to lead, but I was...distracted.
     After Number Two came back, she relayed to me the foibles of Number Three Au Pair.  I nodded in judgment over countless cups of café au lait about all of the foul moves that young woman had made. I was inebriated with visions of what to do and what not to do. Oh yes, oh yes, I would be perfect in the role. I could read and write in French after several years of education, Number Three had not even spoken one word in the beginning (ha, HA!). I could drive stick shift, Number Three didn’t even have her American driver’s license (how foolish). I had cared for children in a responsible role since the day my mother left, Number Three was the youngest of her intact family (Obviously, I understood children better). Moreover, I wanted to be that right-hand man of the parents - parents who worked hard for their bread and needed an independent woman to teach English to their children through a variety of professional methods. I was educated in Secondary Education, disciplined, and willing to enforce what I knew, whereas I wasn’t even sure that Number Three had been gasp(!) college-educated.
     Number Two had lulled me again into the secure world of her confidences and friends and suggested that I too become an au pair with this family. I leapt at the idea.
And here I was, trying to reconcile how I arrived in the back of someone else’s car, about to go to a bar, and bordering on twenty-four hours with no sleep.
      “Will I need to pay for my drinks?”, I asked her timidly, when we had all settled at the bar.
“No, no. This is on me.” she replied.
“Okay, thanks. Can I get some food too?” I piled on “I haven’t eaten and I have no money.

“Of course,” she answered graciously.
    I ordered some antipasto and devoured it the moment it arrived. She watched me shovel the food in my mouth, and drink the wine gulp, after gulp, her eyes getting rounder by the minute. “So you don’t have any money?” she asked. “No,” I said and then in slurred English, I explained the reasons for my earlier delay.
     I had arrived at Orly airport dirty, disheveled, and as poor as a foreign au pair. Every penny that I had saved from working as a pharmacy technician had been put toward my plane ticket. Of course, I hadn’t worked many hours a week in the last semester because I had student-taught, for which I had borrowed on student loans. Therefore, I carried only ten cents in my wallet, as well as one train ticket to transport me from Paris, via a three hour ride, to a large town near the Alps. It was understood that the family would meet me there, then drive me to their home, an hour away. Having disembarked from the plane, but not gathering my luggage, which had been delayed in Madrid, of all places, I followed the signs to the train station. It dawned on me that I could not walk directly there, i.e. to Paris from the airport ten miles away, at least, not safely, nor on time.  Faint echoes of what the travel agent had murmured about a small side trip had started to penetrate my consciousness. What was it that she said? Oh yeah, I had to catch the metro between the airport and the train station, which would require a metro ticket. Would ten cents buy me one? I half-heartedly hoped so.
      I searched for and found the information station. The very kind ladies told me about a free shuttle to the metro station. Okay, I’d try that. Maybe with some kind of royal recognition, hey, I had a plane ticket and I was an American in their backward little country, they would allow me to board the metro. I rode the small shuttle to the other side of the airport. Like soldiers barricading the only path to freedom from a third-world country, the turnstiles of the metro stood stiffly, intimidating me from crossing them. The apertures of the ticket machines yawned, just waiting for me to deposit money that I did not have into them. Large and hostile signs prohibiting any illegal crossing of the turnstiles reminded me that my thought-crime was unoriginal, and the dour guard behind the glass window gave face to the opinion that others would have of me if I tried. I rode the



[/color]
[/color]  Hi All,

I am new here, but delighted to have found you. These are the first five pages of my triptych memoir. If any of you are interested in reviewing this, I would be grateful for your critique. I am also willing to critique the works of others, but I am ignorant of any particular etiquette to this type of forum. Once, I joined a trivia forum and kept trying to ask a question, but received no response. Finally, users explained that only the person who answered the last question correctly could ask the next question. I don't want to make that kind of mistake again, so any info would be appreciated. Thanks!

Sincerely,
Dribbydrawers

The Square Au Pair

La Vie en Rose

       Foggy from jet lag and an impromptu night of drinking, I struggled to get out of bed. The scent of stale cigarettes greeted me as I removed the duvet and discovered that I had slept in my clothes. Through the rustic pine shutters that actually closed over my one window, enough light escaped that I could make out the shapes in my room. I sat up slowly and took in my surroundings. The small oaken desk stood against the wall near the window at the foot of my bed, the matching  nightstand and armoire bracketed the head of my bed, and...the large sharpening stone on its primitive wooden stand was exactly where I left it - in front of the bedroom door, preventing yet another intrusion from the family’s oldest, slobbering dog.

   After carefully maneuvering around the different pieces of furniture and pivoting away from the door the heavy tool that belonged more in a foundry than a guest bedroom, I followed some odd sounds that had first stirred me, across the flagstones of the Great Room, up two steps, through a doorway, and into the kitchen. Except for my new boss, no one appeared in the house with us. Had my graceless arrival the day before been forgiven? I wondered this first morning in France.

        Madame Montagne must have heard my approach for as I crossed the threshold, she turned away from the kitchen counter and waved a bloody cleaver in my direction. On the cutting boards beyond her lay the headless, flayed carcasses of rabbits, readily identifiable by their rounded haunches, to be cooked for consumption. My startled expression humored her and she laughed airily as she explained that she was just preparing some of the food that we would have for the New Year’s celebration that night. I nodded dumbly, not so much for the red-stained horrors before us, after all, I was a meat-eater and eager to try new foods, but because ashes from the cigarette in her mouth were landing on our food. Well, I probably wouldn’t die from ash-laden food, so I returned a smile to her. She returned to her task of hacking, while informing me that everyone else had gone out and I had missed joining them because I had been asleep. Arrgh, I yelled in my head. Could I do nothing right?

      Out loud, I thanked Madame Montagne for the information and sat down to the scrubbed wooden kitchen table to eat a tasty breakfast of tartines, cheese, and cafe au lait, while making conversation. I questioned her about the housework and the children’s routines. She described the basic routine that she had previously outlined in a letter to me.

       As the family au pair, I would be responsible for driving the children to school in the mornings, washing the breakfast dishes, washing and ironing the clothes, mopping the floors, cleaning the bathrooms, dusting, picking up the children from school in the afternoons, giving them snacks, helping them to start their homework and ensuring that they finish it, preparing their dinners, and showering them at night. On Wednesday afternoons, when they only had school in the morning, I was also responsible for teaching them some English, taking them to the library or to the pool, and basketball practice. As an education major, I had heard the term In Loco Parentis, but never before had I so fully understood it. For all this work, I would receive some spending money, free room and board, the use of a car, and the weekends to come and go as I pleased. It seemed ideal as I loved to teach, manage children, and do housework, which gave me a tremendous sense of accomplishment.

      After I finished my breakfast and my mental fog had cleared, Madame Montagne pushed the dish of rabbit pieces into the oven to roast, and guided me down to the basement stairs to the ground floor in order to teach me the art of Doing Her Laundry. Though I was to learn her way, in time, I discovered that every family had its own laundry logic.

      Passed down from generation to generation, away from the male spotlight of analysis and domination, unlike cuisine, how one dries, irons, and folds clothes had taken the top spot of pride in every French Woman's heart. Though the washing machines deftly washed the clothes, nothing could compete with how the garments look nestled in drawers and closets. And so, I was inducted into the craft of folding and ironing the laundry in Madame Montagne’s precise manner. Since drying the clothes in a machine would cost too much money, the Montagne family relied on lines strewn across part of the furnished basement in the winter. However, dried on the line meant stiff clothes, so hours of ironing were necessary to convey a soft, yet crisp, but not too crisp, feel to the fabrics. Since no career woman, and certainly not Madame Montagne, wanted to toil in the tedium of the actual chore, what better way than to have the au pair to solve the problem? The diligent au pair listened to the compendium of directions and followed them to the letter. When clothes appeared perfectly ironed, folded or hung, working women in France patted themselves on the backs for how well they had trained their help, and the help, according to their attitudes, were grateful for this exquisite knowledge. Besides the usual articles of clothing, Madame Montagne instructed me on how to iron the sheets, towels, pyjamas, and underwear. I must have looked quizzically at her. She explained that the items fit better in drawers when ironed flat. I did not argue with her because, after all, it was her home. Madame Montagne wrapped up the education with “C’est logique, n’est-ce pas?” [It’s logical, isn’t it?] I dared not shake my head, so I nodded mutely instead. Apparently, the mark of a well-run household was how well the clothes looked in their place, but quietly I asked myself, who nosed about in people’s dresser drawers?

          Now that I truly was in the setting where I would perform all of these tasks, I could envision them more realistically. The ironing would take a few hours a day. I would not iron my own clothes, as I was not in the habit and they were fairly casual anyway, mostly jeans and knit tops. If anyone decided on my character based on how I kept clothes in my drawers, well, I just wasn’t going to invest myself emotionally with that person. The floors would take a good half-hour to mop. I saw myself scouring the toilets in the water closets (furiously disinfecting the doorknobs as no sink stood in the same-said rooms for hand-washing purposes). In the middle of my reverie, she spoke to me about the rules regarding the telephone. In this time prior to the ubiquity of cell phones, I perceived that the only telephone of the house held near-sacred status as it was displayed on its own altar in the corner of the kitchen. A chair stood beside this “holy” structure. The rules were; I couldn’t use the phone without Monsieur and Madame Montagne’s permission, and when I did, I was expected to reimburse them out of my monthly spending money. All telephone calls were a part of this deal because even local calls were costly. I nodded consent in amazement. To offset a possible lack of communication with my family, she encouraged me to write letters. Oh, so that was the reason for the wee chair and desk in my room. Madame Montagne had thoughtfully provided stationary as well. I then imagined that I would be disciplined enough to write on a regular basis. I further imagined that my family would write back to me. My dreams took me to the future, wherein the family, gathered around a fireplace would read aloud these heartwarming relics of my time in France. My heart fairly burst with how wonderful it was all going to be.

      As the day stretched out before me, I took the opportunity to explore the grounds of my new digs. In the gray daylight of a snowy day, the house proved to be a little prettier than my mind had suggested the previous evening and made sense for the surrounding mountains. There was already an accumulation of snow and one sensed that the area did in fact receive much precipitation throughout the year, so that the solid timbers of the top story and sturdy stucco of the bottom story offered a dry and cozy respite from the harsh elements. Despite having been there awhile, the house sat mere feet away from the edge of a tributary to the Isere River. I braced myself against the house on the narrow foot path that separated the house from the water, feeling the mist on my face from the rushing waters
« Last Edit: August 25, 2017, 01:33:49 PM by Dribbydrawers » Logged
samcantcook
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« Reply #1 on: August 24, 2017, 11:04:56 AM »

Dribbydrawers,

Welcome to this forum.

My advice for opening any piece of writing would be to avoid the following: (1) a character waking up, (2) a dream.

Why? We've all seen it before, and you can bet your lottery ticket that every agent has read the same opening a thousand times before as well.

Your first line is your first chance to impress an agent / reader. Start with your best. A generic opening of a character rolling out of bed is not your best. It's bland and shows us nothing.

You've got a lot to work with. French words and settings not only look pretty on the page, they paint pretty pictures in our minds. Start your memoir in the right place. That will fix the pace problem. A character waking up is almost never an interesting beginning, but a French breakfast could be. This is a memoir, so I would recommend seeing how successful memoirs begin. The Glass Castle is a great example of a hook in a memoir: "I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening, when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster."

You don't need something flashy. Just something that peaks our interest, makes us curious, makes us think.
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #2 on: August 24, 2017, 01:15:53 PM »

Thank you  so much! I had just read this advice from you on the Forgotten Thanksgiving piece as well. It's funny because this is my improved version as it starts in France, but I will keep working. Thank you also for keeping the advice specific to my genre and locale. Much appreciated!

« Last Edit: August 27, 2017, 02:03:17 PM by Dribbydrawers » Logged
billiek
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« Reply #3 on: November 02, 2017, 08:34:21 AM »

Hi! Here are some suggestions which are offered in all kindness.

I read somewhere that starting a novel with dialog is considered passé. Don’t know if that’s really true, but to hedge your bets, you can start with a simple line that gives the reader the Narrator’s state-of-mind from the start. Something like…

I was already embarrassed enough, arriving late. Apparently, arriving late in Paris is not as fashionable as we’ve been led to believe. At least not with this group.

Also, those blue eyes of hers were distracting me.


And then dialog line: first, people tend to be sloppier when they speak their native language, so you can make it sound more natural by shortcutting phrases, such as dropping ‘Do’ from ‘Do you want to come?’

Second, add details that give the reader a place and/or time right from the start.

“So we’re thinking about heading over to a bar on Rue du Vertbois. You want to come?”

Also try to do this (add details) whenever you have general terms, such as 'college'…

She had been president [not capitalized here] of the French Club back at [Brown/the community college that I was always on the verge of flunking out of/this little private school where I spent too many years working on my degree in toad-staring]. She was something of a natural leader and I was [happy/surprised/thrilled] when she took my under her wing, inviting me into her world of gossip and intrigue among the campus food courts. She was a living, breathing Madame de Merteuil maneuvering her way through those hallowed halls of [wherever] with a Chanel bookbag draped carelessly across her hip. Everyone wanted to be close to her and I don’t know what I did exactly in my prior life to place me in the position I had found myself in, but I wasn’t about to complain.

Of course, after she graduated, I became president, which was welcomed with a few polite-but-unenthusiastic claps and barely concealed sighs over how things were going to become so much less fun that year.


If the affair with the professor isn’t necessary anywhere else in your story, kill him — it’s distracting the flow of the opening. If necessary, add further into the narrative.

Is there a reason names are not used yet? If not, give the reader at least the friend’s name so you can avoid awkward referencing, which gets confusing. And instead of Au pair Number One/Two/Three, use descriptive titles that gives the reader an image they can hold onto, such as: Prettymissperfectlypertyaupair, or Mlle Parfait, or Américain Moche, or something, something.

And the paragraphs that start with dialog, separate out that dialog so there’s more variation on the page. Looking zoomed out, whole page, the text is rather block-block-block, which is intimidating for the first five pages. There’s no reason it can’t be…

“Why would a French family have an American au pair when so many English-speakers living nearby?” I asked her.

Apparently, the explanation was simply one of laziness and fate. The family skied frequently, living near the Alps, and…


You have the start of what sounds like an interesting story.
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #4 on: November 03, 2017, 07:58:31 AM »

Billiek - Thank you so much for your feedback. I truly appreciate it. I will look into rewriting the first couple of lines and with more detail. One reason that I have withheld names is because these things really happened and the intimate details could embarrass more people than myself. Also, there is a small (bad) part of me who relishes referring to my now ex-friend as some kind of sh**head.
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jcwrites
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« Reply #5 on: November 03, 2017, 11:31:23 AM »


One reason that I have withheld names is because these things really happened and the intimate details could embarrass more people than myself.


You don't want to use names in a query letter, but you hope to publish this. Are there no names in the novel either?... Um, what are we missing?
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Dribbydrawers
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« Reply #6 on: November 03, 2017, 01:39:54 PM »

The names of the people for whom I worked usually point to some location or characteristic of the people - M. and Madame Montaigne, Mr. and Mrs. English, etc. Yes, there are some actual names - Sally, Bob, etc. but they usually denote a closer relationship to me -friend, lover, family- instead of an employer/employee relationship. Number Two disappears after a couple of chapters, with a very brief reappearance much later on. She is not that worthy of much, but encounters with her open my journey with a tumble of emotions, which is what I felt seeing her there and trying to adjust to all of the extra layers of social demands that her very presence wrought.
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