If you’re on this blog there’s a decent chance you found it because you read about the amazing discovery of the Paris apartment that was shuttered for 70 years. Like I was, you were probably intrigued by the treasures found inside, not the least of which was the stunning Giovanni Boldini portrait of Marthe de Florian.We know Madame de Florian was a famous courtesan during the Belle Époque but that’s about all we know, other than she was rumored to have had affairs with French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau and Boldini himself, to name a few.
My agent sent me the article about the apartment back in 2010. I spent months researching Boldini, Marthe de Florian, and anyone tangentially related to the apartment, the city, and the era. Like so many, I wondered why Madame de Florian had these things and why the granddaughter locked up the apartment for all that time (70 years! in Paris! filled with art of near incalculable value!) Though there are no answers to be found publicly, I decided to “explain” these things in my book. From a purely fictional viewpoint, of course! The article and its images served as a jumping-off point and the writing gods took over.
People always say “write what you know” but I disagree. The phrase should be “write what you want to know.” The main protagonist in my story is an auction house expert and it’s safe to say, after a career in investment banking, private equity, and corporate finance, I knew nothing of that world until I started my research (interviews, reading, etc.). I did manage to slip the term EBITDA into the manuscript as a nod to my finance roots – you’re welcome! I’m sure everyone wants to read about EBITDA in historical fiction!
Research is funny. For me it is the ultimate procrastinator. I don’t get “writer’s block,” I get “researcher’s obsession.” You can always look up more, go one step deeper. Inevitably I always reach the point where I have to pull myself away to start typing. Research is one of the things I love most about writing and I’m forever wanting to tackle new (to me) territory. Incidentally, the same applies as a reader. Any book that sends me to Google is going to rate highly.
As mentioned, I did gobs of research for A Paris Apartment, only a fraction of which ended up in the story. Though the initial article sparked the idea behind the entire manuscript, another courtesan, or demimondaine as they were known, inspired me greatly – Liane de Pougy.
A Paris Apartment is told through two viewpoints: the Sotheby’s employee as well as Marthe de Florian herself. I wasn’t sure how to weave Marthe’s voice into the narrative but then I stumbled upon Liane’s published diaries.
Immediately I knew my plucky auction house expert April Vogt would find (and covertly read) Marthe’s journals. In fact I’d been wondering about the books and papers seen in the photographs, all of them piled haphazardly on a comparatively drab bookcase. I knew this would be the place April starts to find answers. She is a continental furniture expert but sees the value in the things that would not be sold.
Despite her chosen career path, Liane de Pougy has a decidedly more pious voice in her journals than the fictionalized journals of Marthe’s. In fact, Liane eventually became a self-anointed nun (not sure she was ever technically one). Thought the two took disparate paths (in my own mind!), I loved reading Liane’s journals and learning about the people in her orbit as well as what was important to her and her friends.
Of course, one must take these journals with a grain of salt as Liane’s entire raison d’être was to present herself in a certain light. Indeed, she went from courtesan to princess (she was married to Prince Georges Ghika of Romania) to “Sister Anne-Marie.” Also, her journal entries were penned between 1919 and 1941, well into her marriage and after her heyday at the Folies. She was 50 when she began writing her memoirs, so was certainly expected to maintain a prescribed level of decorum. (Not like our bawdy Marthe!)
Nonetheless, I encountered many fun gems, including one of my favorite quotes: “Never again. Never more than one writer at a time.” Said after she hosted a party for Jean Cocteau and friends.
All in, my research included reading at least a dozen books, pouring through innumerable articles, and looking at endless pictures. (Another favorite? Browsing Sotheby’s auction catalogs). Even now, even now that the book is 3 months from debut (!!!) I find myself continuing to seek new things. (Stop Michelle, just stop!) The photographs have initiated such a great spark, it seems, worldwide. I can’t wait to introduce people to my version of events. 😉
Hi, I completely understand your obsession with research because I am the same way. I spend a lot of time online doing research, and every link leads me to another one. Before I know it hours have gone by…HA!
I love doing research! I have been writing a love story for the longest time. My book should have been finished a long time ago, but I keep doing research for it. My goal was to self-publish it via Amazon Kindle by last fall, but that never happened. School started and that took priority. One of my resolutions for 2014 is to complete it.
I so much look forward to reading The Paris Apartment. The title is PERFECT! This post has me even more intrigued about your book. It seems that you have indeed weaved a great story.
I read many times that writers should write what they know, but I do not necessarily agree with that either. There are millions of authors out there. I seriously doubt that all of them have experienced everything they have written about. Writing has to involve one’s imagination as well, and now with the internet, you can find out about anything.
Thank you so much for the link-back. That was very kind of you.
Dear Michelle, I read your novel and I found it romantic, flowing, fun and, for lovers of our Europe and its stories, fascinating !! I read also the article about the parisian apartment of Madame de Florian and I was especially fascinated by the photographs. My mind elaborated this thought: someone should write a novel about this !!! Thanks for doing that and for bringing me to the Marthe’s apartment hand in hand with April !!
Thanks so much Mauro! Thrilled you enjoyed it.