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France Humor Short Stories Travel

Paris Always Wins: Behind “The Montparnasse Moon Shot”

Bob’s Spot in Paris

There is a particular spot in Paris I go whenever there. It’s on the west tip of Île Saint-Louis, a prow of a park cutting the Seine into gauche and droit channels. The park is hardly a secret. Thousands of bateaux passengers cruise past it, thousands more stroll the river walks or zip along in the Parisienne traffic crush. But it’s hard-ish to get down there. Stairs and a short walk deter the less resolute. All the better, right? The park is quiet by local standards, shaded in places, and those bateaux passengers are merry (insider tip: wine is involved), and I feel history coursing by.

This nugget did not make “The Montparnasse Moon Shot.” Neither did my forever nipping into bodegas and sandwicheries, nor this friterie I know on the Right Bank. A travelogue of Paris was cut from the early drafts.

2013. I’d been writing France stories, and though one featured Paris already, it was a bit of a love letter. The famous sights, the simmering romance, so forth. Spend time there, and you grasp that Paris is hardly all City of Lights. It’s loud. Restless. Gritty, and if in some places it smells like urine, that’s because someone urinated there. I wanted that real Paris for a next story try. Real Paris seen through the eyes of someone who didn’t care much one way or the other. They had a job to do, and that job could show the myths of Paris as lovely bunk.

Good doggie

Enter that staple of the Paris romantic: café culture and in its analog day the pinball machine. And another from the lore box: the wolves of Paris that set after poor townsfolk centuries before anybody in Rohan or Westeros. The townsfolk got their wolf eventually, and they left architectural nods to the legend if you know where to look.

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense France Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

Pride Cometh Before the Sale: Behind “Murder on the First Night’s Feast”

There is a C.S. Lewis quote about the blindness of the proud. To paraphrase, someone completely full of themselves is so busy looking down their noses that they’re blind to what’s above them. And what’s above them, of course, is the whole, wide world.

We’re all prideful. Someway, somehow we’re all darn proud of something: kids, cars, bankrolls, something. Hell, writing for publication is itself an exercise in pride. It takes vanity to assume another person would invest their time and money in your words. Yes, we’re all proud because we’re all human, and it’s all healthy enough.

Until it’s not.

I’ve tackled pride as a subject before. In “Crack-Up at Waycross,” (Murder Under the Oaks, 2015) the would-be pecan truck jacker has such a grandiosity complex he’s barely bothered to plan the jacking. “Book of Hours”(AHMM Jul/Aug ’18) is about recovering self-confidence. I’ve even done pride in an amateur sleuth way, one Vi Celucci in “Two Bad Hamiltons and a Hirsute Jackson” (AHMM May ’15) being too self-actualized not to meddle in a Secret Service investigation. Pride is endless fodder for a humor guy. But I’m not sure I’ve done the whole pride thing as intentionally as with “Murder on the First Night’s Feast” (ahem, proudly included in the November 2019 Mystery Weekly).

Enter Madame Feubert. It’s 1932, the Touraine countryside and the height of French complacency between WWI and WWII. Mme. Feubert and her gown-and-tux cabal are the latest in a line of self-declared gourmands devoted – I mean devoted – to the Sanglier a la Montvaste, a cut of boar served at only one Loire River chateau and only at a presumed peak each October. For centuries, their retconned legend goes, the Montvaste family has entertained Europe’s finest palates for a two-week feast and those-in-the-know soiree.

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France Humor Travel

Mangeot of the Somewhat Nordlands: Among Les Français, 2018

Lately my traveling alter ego Mangeot of the Nordlands has chronicled expeditions through Norway, Quebec, and now France.

Try not to judge him too hard. He means well.

13 April — Tours

We arrive among Les Français (meaning “They who put sauces on anything”) at their chief aerodrome of Paris. It is a grand city of Statuary and much stone and plentiful macaroons. It is neither clean nor particularly well-lit.

There is Much Strife among the trainsmen. We journey forth regardless as far as they will convey us, into the Touraine. We stop at the drizzle-swept outpost of Tours, pronounced “TWO-er” and meaning in Old French “Why are you not smoking?”. The country folk greet us in a State of Ennui until we demonstrate means of payment. Then fine chefs serve us their Kir and Martini Rouge and treat us to feasts of savory pies made with chicken egg and salted pork. They show us all manner of chateau. Over local wine in which the townsfolk take Great Pride, they ask if I have read the writings of their noted author Balzac. “Some,” I say. “Oui,” they say, “you must be forgiven. You who are possibly from the Nordlands.” I nod. “Perhaps less so,” I say. “But still there is this,” they say. “Why are you not smoking?”

16 April — Bordeaux

We cross the Loire and sally forth into the hinterlands. Onward we venture, beyond the cloudy gloom and Lordly Manors, beyond the Signals of Wireless Service under what our quartermaster tells me is an International Roaming Plan. Our party presses into the Aquitaine, which I translate as “We wait until after the nap.”

In these Darkest Wilds we arrive among the Bordelaise. These are a river people who

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Crime, Mystery & Suspense France Short Stories This Whole Writing Thing

It’s a Spider’s World: “Queen and Country”

Lesson one on writing a spider story: Never write a spider story.

Don’t do it. It’s been done. Since mythological times. Spider women. Tangled webs we weave. Innate fears and phobias. The built-in burdens alone will wrap poor writer you in literary silk. See what happens with spider stories? The metaphors have started already.

Lesson two: If you’re going to write a spider story anyway, have a plan.

A better one than I did, when in 2013 I started on something called “Orb Weaving in Wonderland.” There was this professor guy Nick, and he was using a field trip in the French Camargue to romance the fetching young Rachel. The story, soon retitled “Nephila Rachelis,” had it all, if all means an uncentered blech of sci-fi, Western, morality play, and mixed message. 

Lesson three: If you’ve started a spider story, know when to de-tangle and walk away.

The thing was, now “Nephila Cassandris” (Rachel/arachnid, too on-the-nose, that metaphor problem again) had