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. 😉