Friday, November 15, 2013

15 Days in France

I kicked off my sabbatical with 15 days in France. I wasn't playing hooky from my 100 days of being a full-time writer. True, I'm definitely still in post-cancer seize-the-day mode. But in addition to being a fun vacation, the trip also served a practical purpose as part of my sabbatical: it was a research trip for two books I'm working on right now.

Jaya Jones Book 3 takes Jaya to several destinations in France, a country she's never been to before. And in The Accidental Alchemist, the first book in my new mystery series, American-born Zoe Faust lived in Paris for many years before ending up in Portland, Oregon, and her sidekick Dorian the gargoyle is from Paris. (Dorian is related to my stuffed animal gargoyle Dori, who stowed away in my luggage on this trip.)

While my critique partners are reading a draft of The Accidental Alchemist this month, I'm writing the next Jaya Jones book for NaNoWriMo. I finished an outline for the book over the summer, so this trip was exactly what I needed to fill in some details and get inspired to dive into the book. Here are a few highlights from the trip.

Les Machines de l'ile of Nantes

The old shipping warehouses of this port city along the Loire have been converted into a mechanical wonderland based on Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci.


Les Machines de l'ile (The Machines of the Isle) includes amazing creations including the Great Elephant that roams the park, and a carousel straight out of a fantasy novel. If you're into the steampunk aesthetic, you'd love this place. I'd never been here before, but after I stumbled across it last year when researching France, I knew that I wanted to visit and that it had a part to play in the next Jaya book. 

The Great Elephant at Les Machines de l'ile in Nantes, France.

A sign warns people to watch their children while the Great Elephant roams.


Clisson Castle

No trip to Europe would be complete without a day trip to castle ruins. Clisson is a medieval town not far from Nantes with a wonderful castle. 


Dori the gargoyle exploring Clisson Castle.

Clisson Castle.


Mont Saint Michel

When we arrived at Mont Saint Michel, the small island off the coast of Normandy, it was Halloween and a storm was approaching. That made for an amazing Halloween to explore the cobblestone streets and ramparts as the clouds rolled in.

Mont Saint Michel with a storm approaching.

The storm also gave me a perfect opportunity to kick off National Novel Writing Month on November 1 while sitting inside a cozy hotel room with my paper notebook while the storm raged outside. Our hotel room was a converted fisherman's cottage high on the mount, overlooking the quickly-rising tides. 

View from the hotel room, overlooking low tide in the Mont Saint Michel Bay.

I first visited Mont Saint Michel when I was backpacking after college and I knew I wanted to return. It's such an amazing place full of history and mystery that it's going to get blog posts of its own -- not to mention being an important part of the book! (One of my favorite mysteries, Old Bones by Aaron Elkins, also has two scenes at Mont Saint Michel.)

Mont Saint Michel on a foggy Halloween night.

Exploring the Mont Saint Michel Abbey.

Paris

Eating out in France is fun, even for someone like me who gave up meat. I enjoyed many meals before we got to Paris, but it was wonderful to rent an apartment and do some cooking! I love going to the markets in foreign countries to try new things that aren't available at home. The shallots in France are heavenly and my favorite snack was chocolate-covered rice cakes.


The Louvre is in the new Jaya book, so I visited twice, once during the day and once at night. Nothing as dramatic happened as when I visited in 1998, but it still provided much inspiration.

The Louvre at sunset.

The Musee D'Orsay.

I stopped by to visit my old friends at Notre Dame.





Dori the Gargoyle Exploring Paris 

My stowaway Dori had fun, too. (Dori is distantly related to Dorian, the gargoyle in The Accidental Alchemist, but Dori is much fluffier.)

Dori the gargoyle at the Eiffel Tower.

Dori the gargoyle at Notre Dame.


Dori the gargoyle exploring the Marais neighborhood.

Dori hiding out in my luggage.

Time to get back to work on those books the trip inspired!

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