Having Elizabeth Ross join Paris Month this year has been such a joy. Not only did she reach out to me about her debut novel, Belle Epoque, but she’s been so gracious to send me giveaway items and do an interview as well! Be sure to swing by my review of this fabulous YA historical fiction and your chance to win a Belle Epoque prize pack, including an ARC of the book, courtesy of Ms. Ross!
Elizabeth Ross grew up in Scotland where she studied French and Film Studies at the University of Glasgow. After graduation she worked in the film industry in Montreal for several years, becoming a film editor. That career path eventually led to Los Angeles where she now lives with her husband.
Her debut novel, BELLE EPOQUE, will be published in June, 2013 from Delacorte Press/Random House. She is currently at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles. Elizabeth is represented by Brenda Bowen of Sanford J. Greenburger Associates.
Author bio & photo courtesy of ElizabethRossBooks.com
First off, welcome to Paris Month! I’m so excited to have you stop by. 🙂
Thanks for having me!
1. As a debut author, what has surprised you the most about the whole process?
There is a sense of the unreal about getting a book published – a disbelief it will really happen. So in the many months between selling the book and finishing the writing, I tried not to focus on the result, but just try to do the story justice. After the novel was finished the most surprising and wonderful thing was when people began to read and respond to the book. The ability to connect with a complete stranger through my work is such a privilege. And I don’t think that will wear off!
2. Besides writing, you are also a film editor in Los Angeles. Did you always know you wanted to be an author? How has it been to find time to write while working in such a time-demanding, all-consuming industry?
I always knew that I wanted to tell stories, which is what led me to work in film. You know it’s interesting how similar writing a book is to editing a film. An editor is a storyteller, crafting the narrative out of sound and image using the script as a guide. There is a lot of “re-writing” in the film editing process and I think it’s the film editor’s job to find the story’s core, its truth. It’s the same for a writer crafting a novel. For right now I’m focusing more on writing than editing. It would be very challenging to do both at the same time. But the skills I’ve learned from filmmakers, I use every day as a writer.
3. Paris is often known for its “beauty”, and I love that you focused on the more “plain & ugly” side in Belle Epoque. What inspired you to write about the repoussoirs?
Paris was the ideal setting for an agency of ugly women, precisely because it’s a city associated with beauty and beautiful people. The inspiration for the novel came from a short story called Les Repoussoirs by the French writer, Emile Zola. It’s a wonderful, biting satire, which derides the bourgeoisie’s ability to profit from anything. Although written in 1866, it didn’t feel dated at all. I found it to be incredibly relevant to our modern age where physical beauty is prized above everything – especially if you’re a woman. This theme of beauty and comparing yourself to others was something I wanted to explore. And hopefully the novel’s themes speak to contemporary readers.
4. I love the time period that you set Belle Epoque in, coinciding with the building of the Eiffel Tower. You’ve mentioned that the landmark was appropriate to the premise, given the feedback from Parisians at the time. Did that influence the years you were going to set the story in?
I knew I wanted to set the book in la belle époque to play with the idea of the ‘age of beauty’. At the same time the historical context ups the stakes for my heroine. I wanted the disparity between the rich and poor to be an obstacle for her, as well as her gender at a time when a woman’s options were limited. The more I read about the Eiffel tower – seen as a monstrosity by so many – the more it felt like the obvious setting for my story. Paris was on the cusp of the modern age and it was such an exciting time in art, photography, science and architecture. And it’s fitting that Maude could see the beauty in Eiffel’s new tower, where others couldn’t.
5. There’s a very strong sense of female empowerment throughout the book. Do you feel this was indicative of the mindset of many women at that time?
I’m glad you recognize that! It was important for me to create girl characters I could relate to, who could be independent and strong but also had their vulnerabilities and insecurities. Also the female friendship was a hugely important element in the story (I’d like to see more examples of this YA novels). As for the time period, women were hampered in different ways depending on their class and social rank and we can see this through the characters of both Maude and Isabelle. I think it’s obvious from Maude’s struggles in the beginning of the book that it was particularly hard for the working classes. But for me, essentially BELLE EPOQUE is about a girl finding her voice and her strength more than it is a social commentary or a history book. I really wanted to write a story about a girl who unwittingly embarks on an artistic journey – who finds ‘the artist’s spark’ as I call it, despite the initial unlikely circumstances. Whatever the setting, a compelling character transcends the time period she inhabits and we can connect with her through time.
6. I often find in YA that there are many books that become a series. I enjoy that Belle Epoque is a standalone and that there was closure at the end rather than leaving it an open cliffhanger. That being said, do you have plans at this point to write any more novels? Along the same style as this one, or do you have interest in writing other genres?
Yes, I like standalones too. Right now I’m working on a new book set in 1940’s Los Angeles. I’m really excited about writing in this time period – it’s a delight to research. It’s funny but I don’t think of myself exclusively as a historical fiction writer. I think I stumbled into it because of BELLE EPOQUE. I suppose I just try to set the story where the characters belong.
Thanks for having me on the blog, Michele. April in Paris was fun!