Passion, lucidity and tenacity: keys to being a writer
Anne Trager, founder of Le French Books, talks with international bestselling author Frédérique Molay
Imagine writing a book in your spare hours, between work in politics and home life. Imagine keeping it in your drawer until your friends say you have to submit it for a prize. Imagine then that you win France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, that your book rockets to the top of the bestseller list and is named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, that you leave your day job and dedicate your life to writing. No, this is no fairy tale. It is the story of Frédérique Molay, the author of the international blockbuster The 7th Woman, which is now available in English. She’s been called “the French Michael Connelly,” and I was lucky enough to translate this book. She and I talked about writing and here I share some of her secrets.
Can you describe what motivated you to become a writer?
When I was a rookie journalist, by luck and stubbornness, I had the opportunity to do an exclusive interview of Mary Higgins Clark and spent several hours with her face to face on May 14, 1992. It was an unforgettable moment. I found her so professional, so kind. The picture of the two of us together still hangs above my desk. I remember one scene that day in particular. We were in a limousine that had just stopped at a red light in the middle of Paris, and Mary Higgins Clark began to talk. It was like she was building the scene for a new novel. She whispered, ‘Imagine, a man you don’t know approaches and opens the unlocked door and, there the story starts!’ I still can’t get over the opportunity it was for me, a rookie writer, to meet one of the greats. It was necessarily motivating. I would write at night, while holding down a job with responsibilities and raising three kids. When I won Quai des Orfèvres prize andThe 7th Woman was so well received, I took the leap and I dedicated my life to writing.
Where do your stories come from?
I set The 7th Woman in Paris, a city I know well, as I was born there. Often, when I see a building or a stairwell I think to myself, “Now that’s a good address for a victim.” Each story stems from encounters, articles I’ve read in the papers or heard about. I like to start with human reality in what it has that is darkest, stepping in the real settings and then building a story from it. But beware, you need to have a Cartesian approach, because each piece of evidence must have a consequence in the story. It’s like a Rubik’s cube. You can’t take anything for granted.
What are you trying to do with your writing?
More than anything, I want my readers to keep turning the pages. Weaving suspense over the pages in a mystery plot right through the resolution is a fine game between the author and the reader. In no other genre do you get this kind of interaction as in crime fiction. Ultimately, you can only write what you have inside. I am an eclectic reader, and as an author I have a taste for criminal investigations, and more generally for thrillers and suspense. Some people claim that crime fiction writers are constantly looking for the truth, that they pinpoint what is lurking in the shadows, they love to raise people’s awareness. This is certainly true, without forgetting that the goal, simple, is to give readers a good time and some chills!
What does it take to write?
A book is like a child you bring into the world. You keep it inside of you for months, and then it’s born and takes on a life of its own. It’s a curious feeling. You need to be a bit of a solitary wolf when you write. You find yourself alone in front of the page or your computer screen, along with just your imaginary characters. Very few people can actually have this kind of intimacy, I think. I need to have someone I can trust, to whom I read my chapters, with whom I work things out when I’m feeling doubts, someone who encourages me in my passion.
Writing requires regular work. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Writing is a passion, a necessity. You have to be modest, self-critical, and be able to get people to help you. After your imagination has worked full out, and the last word has been put on a manuscript, corrections take time. Writing, like so many things in life has something to do with talent, but it is mostly about work. It takes passion (obviously), lucidity (a minimum that grows over time), and tenacity (limitless).
Le French Book is having a special promotion of The 7th Woman starting on October 23. This edge-of-your-seat police procedural has all the suspense of Seven, with CSI-like details, set in Paris. It won France’s most prestigious crime fiction award, was named Best Crime Fiction Novel of the Year, and is already an international bestseller. For the launch, Le French Book giving away a trip to France, French wine and lots of other gifts. They also dropped the usual list price for a limited time. Check it out: http://www.the7thwoman.com