Wednesday, June 29, 2011

M.L. Longworth: Death at the Château Bremont, Guest Post & Book Giveaway

I admit it, I'm a Francophile. Knowing that, you won't be surprised that I couldn't resist picking up Death at the Chateau Bremont with a cover complete with chateau, spilled wine and a dead body! What's more, the book is set in historic Aix-en-Provence! Billed as a Verlaque and Bonnet Mystery, it portends to be a series. Great! Death at the Chateau Bremont has wonderful characters and fabulous setting, with new insights into the French police system. Thoroughly enjoyed Death at the Chateau Bremont.

BOOK GIVEAWAY: WIN A COPY OF DEATH AT THE CHATEAU BREMONT. Comment on your most "French" experience.

M.L. Longworth has written for The Washington Post, The Times (London), The Independent, and Bon Appétit magazine. She divides her time between Aix-en-Provence and Paris, where she teaches writing at New York University's Paris campus.

M.L. Longworth:

I was once stuck on an article I was writing about the Aix-en-Provence of Paul Cézanne, and a very generous editor at The Washington Post gave me this advice: Okay, so you’re writing about this new place that you love. But what did Cézanne see and hear when he walked from his studio in Aix, along a country road, to the village of Le Tholonet? What did he smell when he climbed the paths of Mont Ste-Victoire? What did he taste when he ate lunch at Les Deux Garçons? These words are always in the back of my head, regardless of whether I’m writing an article about a local restaurant or a chapter in my next book. I really want the reader to experience Aix-en-Provence the way I do, as if they were beside me.

We moved to Aix in 1997 and I immediately began writing articles about the region. I couldn’t get enough of Provence. But after a few years I began to grow restless; not with the area, but with the restrictions of writing non-fiction. I began having conversations in my head and realized that if I wrote fiction then my characters could live in, and experience, Provence as I do. Aix is a law town—it has been since the Middle Ages—which seemed to me a good place to situate a mystery, and I imagined my protagonists involved in the law profession.

But before you begin writing a novel, you need characters. From the start I had a clear picture of Antoine Verlaque in my head: he would be troubled but savable, a snob but with a sense of humor. He’s a gourmet, and a gourmand (for the French, someone who eats too much), just like I am, and we both love good wines and Cuban cigars. I didn’t have a role model for the heroine; I just knew that I wanted her to be very unlike myself. One afternoon, while I was trying on clothes in my friend Joelle’s shop, her sister hurried in. She was tall, beautiful, sweet and a little anxious, and a law professor. She became Marine. I thought it might be a good idea to develop a mystery series where there’s a couple doing the sleuthing, not yet married. Their relationship may be exciting, but it has lots of ups and downs.

The other characters were easier to fill in, as Aixois are so willing to chat, and after a few conversations you’ll discover that the cheese seller knows more about contemporary theatre than anyone you’ve ever met; or that your hairdresser is also a competitive cyclist. I didn’t have to exaggerate for the book; Bruno Paulik (the Commissioner) is a policeman but is an opera aficionado and loves plant life. Fabrice, the cigar-club president, is a plumber with a vast knowledge of Cuban music. There’s often more to people than meets the eye, I think, regardless of where you live.

I originally began the book with what is now chapter three: the morning of a typical work day for Marine, beginning with coffee at her favorite café—where she will discover that a childhood friend has died. Etienne de Bremont’s death again came to me thanks to a friend, who had dragged me to her in-law’s big country house to look for something her husband had misplaced in the attic. It was an antique dealer’s dream: full of gilded mirrors too heavy to move, sets of mismatched porcelain, paintings of seascapes and ancestors leaning against the stone walls. The attic was a perfect setting for a murder (it had a huge, open window, and I pointed out its danger to my friend). We never did find what she was looking for, but that evening I began writing ‘Death at the Château Bremont.’


MJ Frederickson said...

So few books take place in France that's nice to see another one available. When I was 20 I spent 2months in Grenoble living with a family and attending the University. I have such wonderful memories of the culture and magnificent scenery.

Marjorie/cenya2 said...

This book sounds great, reminds me of Quebec.
I would love to read it.

cenya2 at hotmail dot com

traveler said...

This book would be a treasure to read and fascinating. I have had many French experiences since I was born and lived in Montreal most of my life. Many interesting encounters that were humorous and memorable. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

petite said...

What a great post today. I remember my trip which was interrupted by a strike which made things a little difficult. But I did enjoy Le Metro very much and Le Marais was amazing. rojosho(at)hotmail(dot)com

Leslie Budewitz said...

We spent a month in France two years ago -- two weeks in Provence -- and I'm eager to go back. Might have to be a virtual trip, though, and your book sounds like just the ticket!

vallerose said...

I would also love to read this book. My proudest French experience was spending an entire week in Paris speaking only French to the Parisians.No one insisted I speak English. That was three years ago. Not sure if I could that today.
My other French experience was translating short biographies from French to English.

Harvee said...

I toured Paris soon after college, tried out my basic French, and took a train from there to Mont. St. Michel in Brittany. The city and the island were two very different experiences, and I enjoyed them both.

Susan Russo Anderson said...

M.L., thanks for telling us about your book, and the process of writing it. Sounds like a wonderful read, and right now I'm trying to imagine you smoking a cuban cigar. re my most French experience in France: on our honeymoon in 1980, my late husband and I went to Paris, the first of many trips to France for us. On our last day there, we splurged and bought a vase, very French, with a very French frog lying on his back dressed in striped pants and no top and swatting at a buzzing bee. After purchasing our froggy vase, we made a visit to Notre Dame, and I set the vase down on the stone floor and it broke. Our dismay attracted several people who dismayed with us, I presume, bemoaning in fast french. I will never forget it. Somehow I have need to weave Mr. Frog into a story. P.S. I still have the glued together vase.

Theresa said...

I know I will love this book. It sounds wonderful.


Theresa said...

I think this is a book I will love. I can't wait to read it.


vvb32 reads said...

sounds like a fun book!
french experience would be watching the tour de france which will be on this weekend! oui oui!
vvb32 at

cyn209 said...

my most 'French' experience?? how about going to Paris & trying froglegs for the 1st time?? LOL!!!
thank you for the giveaway!!!


Unknown said...

My "most French experience" hasn't happened yet, although I grew up in Canada and studied French in University. I'm going to France this summer, and am extremely excited about it!

Cindy Sample said...

I've been dying to read this book so this was a wonderful reminder. I love Paris, even the trip when bombs went off twice at subway stations I had just departed from. But I have a story to share!

Does Angeline's still offer that fabulous chocolate?

Gram said...

Unfortunately I have had no "French" experiences except for high school french class. I have forgotten all of that! The book sounds great and I will look for it if I do not win a copy!

Janet Rudolph said...

Angeline's is still there

Wendy Dingwall said...

This book sounds wonderful and right up my alley. Can't wait to read it. Though, I've sent many travelers to France, as a former travel agent, I never managed to make it there myself. Still hoping to get there one day, but in the meantime, I will armchair travel with Ms. Longworth's book.

Ellen Mahar said...

Many years ago on a trip to Paris, Nancy, and Strasbourg with a friend I used Bouquet De France An Epicurian Tour of the French Provinces by Samuel Chamberlain as I guide to where we might eat. In Nancy we spent hours walking around trying to find "the restaurant". Finally a couple with several children in two walked with us to the restaurant. It was the best meal ever. Wish I could go back, but am an armchair traveler now.

Anonymous said...

The closest I come to a French experience is a visit to Quebec. I was surprised to discover I could remember a few French words from high school French class.

boots9k at wowway dot com

Omnimystery said...

Thanks for the heads-up, Janet, on this post (sorry I missed it when you first published it in June). I find it interesting that the author's comments about the characters and setting relate to what I found most appealing about the book. Just as an aside, my Mother finished the book today and absolutely loved it.

Janet Rudolph said...

So did my sister who insisted on reading it on her iPad rather than the copy I had for her. Funny, but then that's another sale for the author!

Niki Chanel said...

I have just discovered you, Janet, and your book Murder at the Chateau Bremont. I love the cover and I love the concept.

Though I did not see the deadline for your giveaway, I thought you wouldn't mind if I added a French memory of mine to your comments... anything to help me remember one of the best chapters of my life!

My husband and I were driving with our young son and friends through France some years ago and had stopped for gas and to stretch our legs.

My husband leaves us for the men's room around back, and my knee-high son makes a bee-line for the interior of the station. As I chase after my little one, I enter the world of tools and transmissions, and that dreaded feeling of a being a woman alone with a mechanic washes over me. I feel no bigger than my five-year-old. The smell of motor oil adds to my terror. Deeper into this tiled cave I see my son disappear around a corner - too late for me to stop him. Embarrassment takes me down another notch. The one nationality I want to love me is keeping a score card and I'm loosing. I round the corner dreading the vision of the owner holding my wriggling son by the scruff of the neck, both screaming.

But there is no screaming.

Instead, a mechanic is taking a photograph of a pile of tires. Oh No! Junior is ruining an ad campaign! The photographer looks over at me and points into a tube of new treads. I step forward with trepidation; my cutie-pie looks up at me grinning ear-to-ear, 'hiding'. The mechanic catches my eye and points behind me. Oh-dear-god-no-please, let there not be a crowd watching... I turn and spy a coffee bar complete with 1950s four-foot high bar stools. My husband appears and takes over playing with my son allowing me to be served by the smiling mechanic. I climb onto one of the high chairs like a child, and the perfect cafe au lait is set before me. The smell of motor oil vanishes, the aroma of coffee taking its place and it envelops me with affection. I am in shock. Looking up from my cup, saucer and spoon and into the eyes of my new french friend I become aware of my tears. He holds his gaze as he adds a foil wrapped oblong of chocolate to the setting and points into the cup. I look back at my coffee - the centerpiece of my non-verbal experience - unwrap the chocolate and stir it in the steaming elixir, sobbing. Never has a coffee tasted so miraculous.

From that time onward every time I smell rubber tires, I smile.

Thank you for this opportunity. :)