Interview and Review by Liza Perrat
Linda Kovic-Skow is the author of the French Illusions memoirs: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley and its sequel: From Tours to Paris. Today I'd like to welcome Linda to the Triskele Bookclub to talk about her writing of these fascinating memoirs.
But firstly, my review of French Illusions, which first appeared on Bookmuse:
French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley is the first of two memoirs based on the diary entries of the author, Linda Kovic-Skow. Back in 1979, when she was 21, Linda yearned to become a flight attendant. But this required speaking a second language, so she chose to learn French by becoming an au pair to a wealthy French family living in a château in the beautiful Loire Valley. Thrown in at the deep end, without knowing any French, Linda struggled to adapt to her new environment, not to mention certain difficult members of the family. And when she signed up for French classes at the university, and met another student, the handsome Adam, her life became even more complicated.
As an Australian living in France, I completely identified with the author’s predicament. Arriving here to take up with the Frenchman I’d met on holiday in Thailand, without a word of the lingo, I too floundered with the language, customs and traditions, yet immensely enjoyed the food, wine and history.
I felt I was reading the author’s diary entries a she was writing them, and as I accompanied Linda on her adventures and romances, I found myself sympathizing with her problems, and celebrating her triumphs.
By the end of the first book I felt I had truly come to know the author as a person; as she was then––a young girl struggling to find her way in a foreign country. Keen for more, I immediately purchased French Illusions Book 2, From Tours to Paris; which I also loved.
Highly personal and entertaining, as well as informational, I would recommend these stories for Francophiles and young girls thinking of becoming au pairs in France, or any foreign country for that matter.
Interview with Linda...
LP: Your story is very intimate and personal, so firstly, what decided you to write about your experiences?
LKS: In 2007 after my husband and I dropped our youngest daughter off at college, I went through a sort of mid-life crisis. I missed being a mom and I wondered how I would fill the void. Something was missing—but what? This prompted me to review what I like to call my "mid-life list." This is similar to a "bucket list," but instead of exploring things to do before you die, you refocus yourself, while you’re still relatively young, and figure out the things you want to do in your fifties. My list was short.
-Learn to play the piano
-Travel to Africa to see the elephants
-Travel to Tahiti and see the island of Bora Bora
-Write a book
At the time, I didn't own a piano and, with two daughters in college, I couldn't afford a trip to Africa or Tahiti. What about the last item on my list? If I did write a book, would it be fiction or non-fiction? What genre would I choose? The answers to my questions came to me in the shower (which is where many of my ideas seem to materialize, strangely enough). I decided to hunt down my diary from my au pair adventure in France and compose a memoir. I’d told the story on numerous occasions, and the reaction from friends and family was often the same: You should write a book! Now, I finally had the time. It took me three years and countless hours to write the first book in the French Illusions Series, and a few more to write the second, but now I can scratch another item off my mid-life list.
LP: What kind of readership is your story aimed at?
LKS: The simple answer is adult women. Set in the beautiful Loire Valley, my memoir will remind older readers what it was like to be young, adventurous and filled with dreams. Younger readers will relate to the difficult decisions women make as they transition into adulthood. My hope is that both of these groups will come away from my book realizing it's not too late to create your own memories. Go out and explore the world. Life's for living, after all.
LP: You obviously kept your diaries, to write the books, but did you have to fill in many details from memory, or did you have everything written down already?
LKS: I have to admit writing my memoir was a lot more complex than I initially imagined it would be. My diary offered a great outline of the events, but I had to create the dialog from memory and fill in hard-to-find data on the Loire Valley, the Loire River and the town of Tours from 1979. Internet searches produced most of the information and travel books supplied the rest. From the beginning, difficult questions emerged, such as how to deal with the French sprinkled throughout the book, and whether or not to italicize my thoughts. Oh, and I really struggled with how much detail to include in my own love scenes. I wrote and then rewrote these scenes until I could read them without rolling my eyes.
LP: Have you been back to France since this time? If so, did you see it in a different light?
LKS: In the summer of 2001, my husband, my two girls and I spent a month traveling through France, Italy and Greece. It was a trip of a lifetime for all of us, and this time, I didn’t have to worry about running out of money! After a brief visit to the Atlantic Coast, we traveled to central France and toured many of the towns and grand castles I’d missed during my first visit in 1979 and 1980. Each time, before we arrived at our destination, we would pull out travel guides and read the history surrounding the town or castle. It was a wonderful, magical experience for all of us. We stopped briefly in the town where I had been an au pair long ago, and my stomach clenched as memories surfaced. It was a relief when we moved on to our next destination.
LP: Have you kept up your French language skills? And if so, have they been useful at all throughout your life?
LKS: After I returned to United States in 1980, I took French Classes and joined conversational French groups so I could keep up with the language. Once I married and had a family, my priorities changed and I put aside my French studies. When I returned to France with my family in 2001, I noticed how quickly the French words returned. I still treasure a conversation I had with an elderly man in Paris as we discussed the merits of his beloved city. I’ll never forget the look of admiration on my family’s faces.
LP: Can you tell us about the publication of your books? Did you take care of all the publishing aspects yourself?
LKS: With French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley, I chose to publish my paperback through a self-publishing company. They helped create my book, giving me control over design, editing, and pricing while allowing me to retain all the rights to my book. Then, I contracted with an eBook publishing and distribution company to create my eBook, which I published using my own Limited Liability Corporation called Dreamland Press. They were a good match as well because they charged a fee to create the eBook, but they didn’t take a percentage of the royalties.
This year, when I published my sequel, French Illusions: From Tours to Paris, and the French Illusions Box Set, the process moved along at a faster pace. I went directly to a formatter to create my eBooks and covers. Once I had the files, I loaded them onto the various sales platforms. For my print book, I contracted directly to a wholesale book distributer who offered print on demand.
LP: Have you any other memoirs, or fiction, in the pipeline?
LKS: There is nothing in the pipeline right now, but I have a few ideas for future books. Before my mother passed in August of 2014, I recorded four hours of her recounting her life story. She was born in the United States, but her parents took her back to Croatia as a young child, and the family endured enormous hardships during World War II. I think this would make a great historical novel. I’m also considering another memoir about my unusual childhood, something like “Growing up Linda.”
Thanks so much, Linda for answering my questions and I wish you all the best with your writing.
Linda Kovic-Skow is a best-selling author in travel in France. Originally from Seattle, she currently winters in Gilbert, Arizona, and spends summers on a boat in the Pacific Northwest Waters of Washington and British Columbia. She earned an Associate Degree in Medical Assisting in 1978 from North Seattle Community College and a Bachelor of Arts in Business Administration from Seattle University in 1985. She has been married for 30 years and has two daughters. An enthusiastic traveler, Linda also enjoys hiking, boating, gardening and socializing with friends. “French Illusions: My Story as an American Au Pair in the Loire Valley,” was her debut memoir. The sequel, “French Illusions: From Tours to Paris,” recounts the rest of her adventure in France.
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