le moi
un rappel


Lace Curtains in Nyons (c) Kristin Espinasse
Some romantic curtains (spotted in Nyons) to go along with our "Romancier" story, by guest blogger Janet Skeslien Charles.


romancier (ro man see ay) noun

    : a novelist
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Romancier, Romancière

9781608192328[1]-1 My name is Janet Skeslien Charles. I am a romancière from Montana who lives in Paris. In 1998, I came to France as une assistante d’anglais. Like many people who end up living in France, I intended to stay just one year, yet me voilà – here I am – twelve years later with my romanMoonlight in Odessa” (Bloomsbury) just out in paperback. I feel very lucky to be a guest blogger for Kristin this week and hope that you will enjoy my posts.
From 1998 to 2004, I taught in three different schools in Ile de France, which is what the French call Paris and its surrounding suburbs. One school was an hour away from my apartment. I spent more time underground in the metro than I did above ground in the classroom, running from school to school. After six years, I decided to stop running and work on mon roman and lead an atelier d’écriture.
I wanted a mix of Anglophones and French adult students, but it wasn’t easy to attract French students at first. When I told French friends about my atelier d’écriture, this is how it usually went:

“I’m starting a writing workshop.”
“Bravo!” Emilie said. “Children these days need help with their penmanship.”
“It’s for adults.”
“Well,” she said. “Many adults could stand to improve their penmanship.”
“The workshop is about telling stories, not penmanship.”
“Ah, oui…”

I thought Emilie had understood, until she twirled her finger near her temple, making the universal sign for crazy. “You mean for adults who have problems.”

“My students don’t have problems!”
“No, of course not. I meant they’re… slow.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my students,” I said. “They want to be writers.”
“But writers are born, not made.”

Chantal was one of my first French students. She wrote beautiful essays about books and characters, describing them lovingly as friends. It was the first workshop she had taken and I think she was surprised by her own work and by the encouragement of her fellow writers. Each session, it is a pleasure to see people share their work, gain confidence, and improve their writing.

I believe that writing is a pleasure that we can all enjoy and that anyone who writes is a writer, whether it be observations in a journal, sharing our thoughts on a blog, or sending letters to friends. Musicians take classes to improve their technique, why can’t writers? Do you believe writers are born or made? Or perhaps a little of both?  

It is challenging to be a un écrivain, finding le mot juste, finding the heart of a story or an essay, editing our own work and finding agents or editors. Many people fear being turned down. As I tell my writing students, rejection is a part of dating, looking for a job, and getting published. I show them rejections for a personal essay called “Interview in Paris” sent to ten literary journals. The first came within hours from Boston, the last came sixteen months later, also from Boston, with a word of praise. The largest rejection was one page long, the smallest a two inch by two inch scrap of paper. Write, edit, get feedback, edit, send out your work, repeat as needed.
It is rewarding to be un écrivain, finding the right word, finding the heart of a story, finding readers who love the piece as much as you do. Paris is a challenging and rewarding place to be a romancière. The city is nourishing yet full of delightful distractions. Here is my favorite kind: a café gourmand, a coffee served with three small desserts. Perfect as a small consolation in a moment of difficulty or as a reward to celebrate an unexpected victory.

Photo 2

My Belle-Mère was the first person to call me a romancière. We sat in her kitchen drinking coffee. She looked at me and said, “Just think, I have a romancière sitting across from me.” I loved the sound of the word. It sounded so romantic.


%2AIMG_3559_small[1] Janet Skeslien Charles’ debut novel Moonlight in Odessa was chosen by Publishers Weekly as one of their top ten debut novels of Fall 2009. It was Book of the Month in the September issue of National Geographic Traveler. BBC Radio 4’s Book at Bedtime featured Moonlight in Odessa for two weeks in February 2010. Foreign language rights have been sold in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Italy, Brazil, Iceland, Romania, Serbia, Taiwan, Denmark, and Spain. Moonlight in Odessa has been awarded the 2010 Melissa Nathan Award for Comedy Romance. 

Le Coin Commentaires
To leave a comment, click here. You might also help me to thank Janet for her behind-the-scenes essay on becoming a writer. To leave Janet a message, click here. Merci! And to order Janet's book, click here.

romancier, romancière = a novelist
un(e) assistant(e) d’anglais = an English assistant
me voilà = here I am
Ile de France = Paris and its surrounding suburbs; "one of the twenty-six administrative regions of France, composed mostly of the Paris metropolitan area. Its name literally means "Island of France", possibly from ancient Frankish Liddle Franke, "little France". (--Wikipedia)

un atelier d’écriture = writing workshop
un écrivain = a writer
le mot juste = the right word
un roman = novel
un café gourmand = a coffee served with three small desserts

"Le Roupillon" ("The Snooze"): picture of Braise (left) and son, Smokey, taken last November

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I enjoyed reading this post Janet. I'll look for your book! Maybe just maybe, I feel a little bit more like a writer today :)

Rina Rao.

Hi,Janet---Cogratulations! Will look for the book.
Writing because, this was a little(read lot)telepathetic. I had been thinking about publishers and the rejection slips---you guessed it, I intend writing! Still in the jotting down stage.
Wonder, if you have the time/inclination(patience)to write back. It would be tremendous, if I could discuss a few things on a personal level, as we both live here. Thanks.
If not, will understand.

Pat Cargill

Thank you, Janet, for your insightful post today. Writing, painting, illustrating, photography, etc.--any of the arts are a process and sometimes the grandest part of it is the to learn that one has a talent to be nurtured and realized in all its possible glory. Good for you to encourage others to find their voice and to persevere through the inevitable ups and downs of moving the work to an audience (the part of the artistic process I currently tango with!).

Kristin, love the picture of Braise and Smokey--very sweet.


Janet,Enjoyed the article, it was interesting and encouraging. Thank you!

Sion @ paris (im)perfect

Hi Janet. Great post! I'm so sorry I never got to take your writing workshop at Shakespeare & Co. But every time I read something by you, I always get this amazing feeling of positive encouragement, so you are still teaching us all! Now, back to finding my own mots justes :)

Mohsen badawy

Hi Janet, reading your article, I immediately got the answer to your question. It is obvious, at least in your case, that writers are born not made. Then, however, writers should discover their talent or be discovered by others, otherwise, those who are born writers may never have the courage or the opportunity to be known Romanciers.
Congratulations to a truly talented writer,
Mohsen Badawy,
Cairo, Egypt


Hi Janet,

I look forward to reading your book. I wish I could hear the BBC radio broadcast as well. Would they have an archive of old shows? I need to look into that.



Voila! Found the Book at Bedtime archive and now have them on my ipod so I can listen later. Can't wait!


Janet Skeslien Charles

Many thanks to everyone for your kind words and encouragement! The BBC interview is available on www.jskesliencharles.com. Rina, if you would like to contact me directly, you can also do that through my website.
Merci for taking the time to read my post!

Ophelia in Nashville

Hi, Janet. I, too, enjoyed reading your post this morning.

Your conversation with Emilie was very funny. The temple finger-twirling gesture, which I remember well, always makes me laugh.

Do you know the poem "The Way It Is" by William Stafford? A friend just gave it to me. It talks about following the "thread" of your life. There are three lines that read, "People wonder about what you are pursuing/You have to explain about the thread/But it is hard for others to see." I think a lot of artists encounter this reaction.

Bravo to you for following your thread and then encouraging others to do so as well. I bet you are a great teacher.

And, Kristin, I love the word "roupillon"! I don't think I have ever seen it before. Useful, too. Do you prendre un petit roupillon?

Merci à vous deux.

Julie F

Janet, I enjoyed your post. It's only this year that I've gotten brave enough to say "I'm a writer" (albeit unpublished yet) rather than to say "I want to be a writer." I was afraid of all the reactions you described. I think a writer is both born and made. The motivation (no matter what age it arrives) is innate, but the craft is made word by word.

And to Ophelia in Nashville (one of my favorite cities in the world -- I'll be back in October) -- thanks for the Stafford reference. I love him but don't remember reading that poem.

Although the weather in St. Louis is a wonderful fall day, this FWAD entry makes me determined to apply the butt glue to my chair and get back to work on a new blog entry of my own and the story about my mom that had me stumped yesterday.

Marti Schmidt

Merci Janet,
Enjoyed this post, and will look for your book to read, Congratulations on your success.
You ladies encourage me continue to follow my dream of living permanently in France and paint.
tout le mieux!
Marti Schmidt


Dear Janet,

Thank you for this beautiful article. I am forwarding this to my teenage granddaughters who like writing stories and hope that they will be inspired by your story.

You confirm to me that we should not wait too long to make a move and change our life as there are many exciting things out there for us to find and enjoy.

I will look for your book at our local library.


Dear Janet,
Congratulations on your debut novel! I just returned from Paris & much to my dismay never made it to Shakepeare & Co. Will do next trip. Where can one stop in for a Cafe Gourmand. Have been to Paris many times & don't recall seeing that. Angelina's?perhaps?
Where do you come from in Montana? My Dad was raised in Missoula, blocks from the University.


Janet, I read and greatly enjoyed Moonlight in Odessa two or three months ago and recommended it to my book club.

As to rejections, would-be writers should think of Barchester Towers, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, Peter Rabbit, Catch 22, and hundreds of other, now famously established, works that wouldn't be with us if their creators had given up when they received their first rejection.

judith dunn

Janet... What a wonderful and inspiring story of how you 'became a romanciere'.... I congratulate you on the publishing of one of many novels to come! BRAVO! , Best wishes et bon courage! judi Dunn

Georgia Catasca

congratulations !! I will purchase your book.

I have traveled to France many times - love it .

Your book is inspiring.

Tamara Dever

Congratulations on your novel, awards, and foreign rights! I work in publishing (design, production, and distribution for small and self-publishers) and know what a huge accomplishment all of this is. The book's cover is fantastic and I'd love to know who did it.

Sharon Auckerman

When I first read that there was a guest writer today I was disappointed, but I am so happy I read the essay. I used to feel that writers and storytellers are born. But after teaching for several years, I realize that if you really want to write a good story you will strive to make it better and seek out people (editors, teachers, others with the gift, etc.) to help you. I applaud anyone who can tell a good story without help or direction. I always advised people who are wanting to write or give a speech, that they should record themselves saying what they want to say/write and listen to it an hour later. If they like what they hear, write it down and then edit from there. Never be afraid to use different mediums to learn the best way to tell a story.


Congratulations on your novel! Do you still lead workshops in Paris?

Linda Reynolds

omgosh - I open my favorite french-word-a-day site, and lo & behold, it's Janet! nothing like getting two for the price of one. :) A beautiful morning in Montana. I'm visiting a friend in Helena and watching the deer watching me. Friday's snowfall reminds me that winter will be here before we're ready for it.

Julie Dufaj

I thought Americans were naive and romantic until I discovered French movies.

"Writers are born, not made!" Oh, so French! (Frustratingly but also delightfully so!)


This comment is for Kristin ;')

Est-ce que c'est l'ombre d'une bicyclette dans le photo des chiens "dorees"?


Dear Janet,
I read your post just after I thought to myself, "Oh, I need to take a writing workshop!" Although I am a fledgling writer of 10 years, and a self-published poet at that, I like workshops because they encourage the technical in me when I want to be creative, and encourage my creativity when I don't want to do anything but dream. It also gives me a chance to be around others like myself, helping me to find the writing community I so desired when I first began writing alone in my kitchen, when my children were young. The poet friends I met in my first workshop 10 years ago at St. Marks' Poetry Project in NYC are still my dear poet friends and give me a feeling of self worth when I feel like nothing but a worthless poet! Worshops give writers a place to write, and a place to get into the writing head. Nothing can stop me from writing, but sometimes workshops can help get the writing out of me when it's stuck! Plus, it's just plain fun.

Great post, and very nice to comminicate w/ a real life Romancier!

poppi tims

Hello Janet,
Loved your post, tell me, do you still run your atelier d'ecriture? I know someone who would be interested and would love the details of how to enrol etc......
Enjoy your week,
Look forward to hearing from you,
Poppi ☻☻


Naomi, you guessed right: a bike!

Linda in Montana, thank you for sending us Janet :-)

Happy afternoon (or eve or morning) to all.

Martha Sutherland

Oh Janet, un café gourmand! What a delightful panacea for the rejection slip blues. Can this be had at any café? In the course of a fair amount of time spent in France it is something I was unaware of.

Linda Collison

Felicitations, Janet! Je suis aussi romanciere. Maintenant, en anglais, s'il vous plait... When I was in France earlier this year I was searching for a writing journal and could find no such thing. The closest I found was a spiral bound composition book. C'est domage!

Peg! Robinson

Thank you for this wonderful post - I thought it was heartening! And definitely mirrors my experience in France (& the lack of comprehension of the utility or just plain soul-satisfying practice of writing, even if it is just a letter to a friend). Congratulations on your book! I hadn't heard about it until now. You seem like a very generous, kind person!


Merci Janet! Your post was beautiful and inspiring. I look forward to reading your book.


Thanks Janet! I am an English assistant in France right now, and am already feeling the urge to stay forever...thank you for your anecdote. As others have said before me, it is inspiring. Congratulations on the publication of your book! I'm planning to read it and do a write-up on my blog, if that's okay!


Bonjour Janet! It was a beautiful blog and I so enjoyed meeting you in Paris for your book launch there - I hope to see you again as we will be in Paris in November - January...




Thank you Janet for the inspiration of your essay. You and Kristin make me want to learn to write. Also, what does an English assistant do in France and how does one get such a job?



Ma chère collègue,
I call you this because I too was an "assitante d'anglais" in Rouen in 1968-69--and I am thrilled that these amazing positions still exist, or at least did in the 90's when you were one. When I taught at the "Collège d'Enseignement Rive Gauche" à Rouen, it was the last year boys and girls had their separate schools. So...I had energetic, adorable yet diabolical 12 and 13 year old garçons...que des garçons!!!!!!

Maybe I will write about this seminal experience in my life now that you have inspired me. Like others, I had never heard of the Café Gourmand, which is astounding, since I can stand in front of the windows and gaze at patisseries for hours when I am in France.

Amities, Suzanne

Marianne Rankin

I'm not sure I agree that "writers are born, not made." Of course, everyone is born with certain talents, more in some areas than others. For example, Mozart was probably the greatest musical genius of all time. But he was obviously helped by the musical environment in which he grew up. I think I have ability with languages, but was exposed to them through travel, so always knew they were "real," not just a dry textbook subject. Josef Conrad, originally from Poland, author of "Lord Jim" and other books, learned English as an adult and became an accomplished writer.

Some of us, no matter how hard we try, will never be experts in a lot of things. We may never be natural athletes, or more than average musicians, or exceptional writers. But everyone can improve, and if we make the effort, we will make progress - perhaps more than we thought we could when we started.

Susan Herrmann

I enjoyed your column and was happy to learn what a cafe gourmand is. I have spent the past 20 summers in France, seen the expression on the menu a few times, and just assumed it meant gourmet coffee! Had I only known the truth, I would have indulged a few times. I look forward to reading your book.

Susan Radatz

Your wonderful essay reminds me that I decided some time ago that "I want to write and I want to dance." I would so like to join your group, but must find one near my home, near Chicago. I am making progress. I have a computer to be dedicated to the effort, and not too many obligations to distract me. Thank you for reminding me of my goal. Chicago area, temperature 70 degrees F, after yesterday 90 degrees F. The weather is always exciting.

Lee Isbell

Re café gourmand ... I had one once, I think at Chez Clement, of which there are several in Paris.


lovely, very evocative piec e! however for me it would be a thé gourmands!

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I want hereby to start an official campaign to bring Ohrwurm into English. Shouldn't be too difficult. Just start telling your friends "Crap, that new Danii Minogue single is such an earworm." When they ask you what an earworm is, tell them, and urge them to start using it in their normal conversation.

Linda Bugg

Hi Janet,
It is so nice to read about an additional American making the most of life in France. If I had fallen in love with France earlier in life, I might be doing the same thing. We just returned from a month in the southwest, and I appreciate your describing the café gourmand. I noticed what I thought of as dessert samples being served in several establishments and wondered about them.
-Linda Bugg
Tucson, Arizona

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