“The Book Auction, A Million Dollar Advance and Writing Sex Scenes.”


        An interview with Whitney Scharer, author of The Age of Light                                                    


                                       Mary Duncan

                            Director, The Paris Writers Group

 “Rapturous and razor sharp all at once, The Age of Light fearlessly unzips anything we might know of Lee Miller as model and muse and recasts her as artist, free thinker and architect of a singular and unapologetic life. This novel sparks on every page.” –Paula McLain, New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Wife and Love and Ruin.

 “Sweeping from the glamour of 1930’s Paris through the battlefields of World War II and into the war’s long shadow, The Age of Light is a startlingly modern love story and a mesmerizing portrait of a woman’s self-transformation from muse into artist.”–Celeste Ng, New York Times bestselling author of Little Fires Everywhere. 

Whitney Scharer, the author of Age of Light, spoke at the American Library in Paris on September 3, 2019 and the Petite Lumiere Librairie the following evening. Her historic novel focuses on the relationship between the Surrealist Man Ray and Lee Miller, a former Vogue model, who became a photographer and war correspondent during WWII.  We discussed the business aspects of her book, which received a million-dollar advance from Little Brown. This large advance was especially notable because Age of Light is her first book.                             See:  www.whitneyscharer.com









During our interview, it became clear that Whitney had broken some of the main rules of publishing. Our interview starts with those questions.

MD.   How did you find your agent?

WS.   “I didn’t have an agent until I finished my book. I met Julia Barer at Grub Streetwww.grubstreet.org a creative writing center in Boston, where I had been their marketing and development director for ten years. I had written some short stories, have an M.F.A. degree and belong to a writing group called the Chunky Monkeys. They are responsible for much of my success.” 

MD.  How extensive was your digital platform which usually consists of email lists, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.?

WS. ” I didn’t have a platform. I’d rather write. My webpage was adequate, nothing more. Nor an email list consisting of thousands of potential buyers. I didn’t really have a blog, use Instagram, Twitter or have a professional Facebook page.  I’ve since learned that followers on Instagram.com and Bookstagram.com is one of the best ways to promote your book. A well-designed Facebook page is beneficial. I hired someone to design my new website. My publisher has also been helpful by providing publicists in the US and Paris.”

 MD. You had fourteen publishers bidding for the rights to your book. How is this possible? I understood that five large conglomerates own the main publishing companies in the world. Many of their imprints cannot bid against one another thereby keeping advances lower than in previous years.

WS.  “This is not always true.  Each imprint has a budget. Some larger than others. Of course, their budgets are determined by how successful their book sales have been. Most large publishers have some best-selling authors that support everyone else. My publisher, Little Brown, has James Patterson. The first run is 500,000 copies.  Random House has Harlan Coben. He has sold over six million copies in France.  Authors like Dan Brown keep the whole operation afloat.” 

MD  How did you determine which offer to accept?

WS.  “Julia Barer set up seven, one-hour phone conversations with the seven remaining publishers. Each one called me at home. I was really nervous and asked her what I should say. She told me to be myself, answer their questions and ask some of my own. The final decision was mine. She would provide input if I asked. It was craziest day in my life. Even crazier than giving birth.”

 “I thought I was going to have to sell myself. Instead, they were selling themselves by explaining to me their vision, marketing plan, size of their staff and my book tour.  Often, I was talking with one or two people but one publisher had twelve people on the line. They knew I could write. I think they just wanted to make sure I wasn’t insane.”

 We narrowed it down to two publishers. At this point, the main criteria for me was the editor. I didn’t want my book to become an orphan, which can happen if an editor is dismissed, retires or joins another company. The editor I selected had been with Little Brown for over twenty years and had an excellent reputation. My agent was very pleased with my choice.”

MD  How long was it from signing the contract to the  published book?

WS.  “We sold the book on September 20, 2017. Age of Light was released on February 5, 2019 – one year and four months. It also sold to fifteen foreign publishers. It took seven years to complete my book. The first two years were reading everything I could find about Man Ray, Lee Miller and that period in history. Lee is known for her quote, ‘I would rather take a photograph than be one.’ Also, her Holocaust photographs and self-photo taken in Hitler’s bathtub.”  https://time.com › lee-miller-the-woman-in-hitlers-bathtub-munich-1945

MD.  Were you consulted about the cover design?

WS.  “Yes. They sent me three or four samples. I made the final selection. They kept my book title.”

 MD.  You mentioned that you and another writer taught a workshop, “How to Write Sex Scenes.”  How was that organized? How many people attended?

WS.  “Chip Cheek, the author of Cape May, and I started the workshop by reading some really bad sex scenes. There’s actually a “Bad Sex in Fiction Award.” We selected some of those. James Frey won it in 2018 for a scene that takes place in a Paris bathroom.”  https://literaryreview.co.uk › bad-sex-in-fiction-award

 “Then we read what we considered to be good sex scenes from Broke back Mountain, Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney, Christopher Castellani’s Leading Men, which features Tennessee Williams.  Also, Castellani’s “All this Talk About Love.”

 “Sex scenes shouldn’t be gratuitous. They should make the plot move, improve understanding the character, be a moment of high drama, build sexual tension and have a reason to have to be in the story.”

 “At the end, we had a Q and A session. About sixty writers attended.”

MD.  How has your life changed since publishing Age of Light?

 WS. “I’m still building a platform and am writing a new book. It may be set in Palm Springs and Los Angeles in the 1920’s. I feel it’s important to give back to the literary community through mentoring and workshops.  Even though I’ve written since I was a child, I now feel like a writer and we’re all on a pedestal. My husband, daughter and I also have a new home in Boston.

 “I also keep meeting fascinating people. Did you know that Penelope Fletcher’s mother was a codebreaker in WWII?” (Penelope is the owner of the Red Wheelbarrow Bookstore). 

 MD. If you could ask Lee Miller a question, what would it be?

 WS. “Lee had a son after WWII. Anthony Penrose was raised mainly by a nanny. I’d like to know how Lee felt about being a mother.”

We finished our Grand Mariner Souffles and walked out into the cool Paris air. Whitney flew back to Boston the next day to embark on her US book tour.


Location of Interview:  Josephine Chez Dumonet                                                   117 rue du Cherche-Midi,  Paris, France 75006.    September 5, 2019

 Whitney Scharer and numerous authors, who have spoken at the American Library in Paris and Shakespeare and Company, are also available on youtube.com. Perfect for viewing while on the treadmill or drinking a glass of wine.

Best regards,                                                                                                                Mary Duncan                                                                              www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-duncan                                            www.pariswritersgroup.net                                                             www.pariswriterspress.com

Little Wonder Radio Plays: Download free radio shorts by PWG writers.


Little Wonder LogoWe are proud to announce the creation of a new radio station by Keith Crawford, one of our Paris Writers Group members.

Little Wonder Radio Plays, an independent production company, publishes full cast audio dramas from new and classic authors.  Each piece is around ten to twenty minutes in length, perfect for your morning commute or while you’re doing the dishes, and is recorded like a film:  full sound effects, professional actors, and plenty of action.

You can listen to the podcast through our host soundcloud:

Or as subtitled videos on Youtube:

Or via any number of social media and streaming outlets [click here]:

Or just pop the RSS code direct into your podcast app: http://feeds.soundcloud.com/users/soundcloud:users:435165690/sounds.rss

(If you’re reading this on your mobile phone and have a podcast app, clicking on that link should automatically subscribe you.  Otherwise, copy and paste it into the application section entitled “RSS Feeds.”)

To keep up with what we’re doing, check out www.littlewonder.website.  We release two plays a month, and have more than a dozen ready to publish.  What we really need now is to grow our audience.  Please take just a few seconds to listen, like, subscribe, comment and, most importantly, to share our work on social media.  Your support is our success.

We are also running a play-writing competition!  Send us radio shorts between 1600 and 2000 words long for no more than four actors.  Submissions are open from July 13 – August 30, 2018.  Full details can be found here [click]. 

If you would like to write for us, please enter the competition.  All longlisted entries will receive feedback, all shortlisted will be performed, and the winner will be published as a full cast audio drama.  Every entry will be read by the company director and if your work shows promise we’ll be in touch.  In the future you know where to find us:  at the Paris Writers Group!

Hilary Kaiser Launches French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier


war bridesHilary Kaiser is speaking at several venues in France and the U.S. to share the engaging stories of French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier from WWI and WWII. This new edition, which was published by the Paris Writers Press, tells the stories of 6500 Franco-American marriages that took place between French Mademoiselles and American soldiers, be they “doughboys” or GI’s.

These women, who came from different parts of France and diverse backgrounds, would later cross the Atlantic to join their husbands, settle in various corners of America, suffer culture shock, and adapt to marriage in a foreign land of postwar plenty with varying degrees of success. Despite the difficulties, like many other immigrants, they got on with it and survived. Most of them did, in their own way, live the American dream.

The American Library in Paris will be hosting Hilary on Tuesday, November 7, 2017, at 7:30 pm. Books will be available.

See Hilary’s personal profile in the Who We Are section of this website. French War Brides: Mademoiselle and the American Soldier is available at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore Paris, D.G. Wills in La Jolla, and Albertine in NYC.
Also on Amazon.com.

Parisian of the Month: Mary Duncan


From I Prefer Paris by Richard Neham

I am happy to have my friend and organizer of the Paris Writers Group, which I have belonged to since inception in 2008, Mary Duncan, as Parisian of the Month. Enjoy this eye opening interview.

Neham: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
Duncan: I was born and raised in San Diego, the land of sunshine, beaches, Margaritas and Dr. Seuss.

When and why did you move to Paris?
During the early 1980’s, I decided to live in Paris. In 2000, after many years of planning, I embarked on an early retirement program at San Diego State University where I was a professor, bought an apartment and now live between Paris and La Jolla, California.  Paris nourishes and energizes me. It’s intangible, but real.

When did you develop an interest in writing and literature?
Reading and writing have always been my favorite activities. I used to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and smuggle them into the neighborhood library.

My Ph.D. dissertation, “The Effects of Social Conflict on Leisure Patterns in Belfast, N. Ireland,” paved the way for world travel and numerous research adventures to Nicaragua,  Tehran,  Berlin, Russia, Mexico and even Paris.  Curiosity drives me and it never seems to be satisfied.

How and why did you start the Paris Writers Group?
Since 1988, I’ve been a member of the San Diego Writing Women. After I moved to Paris, I really missed our monthly meetings. In  2008, I created the Paris Writers Group.  We started in my living room with www.pariswritersgroup.net

You’ve lived many lives in many places. You were once a Playboy bunny. What was that experience like?
I laughed out loud when I read this question.  I was never a Bunny. I had the boobs but not the legs. For over twelve years, I was a fairly regular guest at the Playboy Mansion.  Max Lerner, the late Los Angeles Times syndicated columnist and writer, was a good friend of Hugh Hefner. I was a friend of Max.

Staying at the Mansion was like living in a five-star hotel where you never received a bill.  Twenty-four hour room service, valets, maids, gym, grotto and pool, tennis, a game room with a billiard table, three private bedrooms for assignations, a vast film collection, a masseuse, all surrounded by a multi-million dollar art collection.  Dali, Pollack, Matisseand others adorned the walls.

In my book, Henry Miller is Under My Bed: People and Places on the way to Paris (2011), the chapter, “Breakfast at Hef’s”, has a colorful description of life at the Mansion. Actors James Caan and Tony Curtiswere regulars. My favorites were the writers and directors like Shel Silverstein and Richard Brooks. Some of the most stimulating intellectual conversations I’ve ever had took place around Hef’s breakfast table.

In my first life, I was a minister’s wife. I made up for those traditional years at the Playboy Mansion.

Please tell us about the time you spent in Moscow and the bookshop you owned.
In 1988, I met my husband, Yuri Loskutov, while participating in a Human Rights conference in Moscow.  After we were married in 1989, I began living there when I wasn’t teaching. Contemporary English language books were scarce. George Whitman, the late owner of Shakespeare and Company Paris, encouraged me to open a bookstore in Moscow.  I found a Russian partner who already had a small literary bookstore. We opened on April Fool’s Day in 1996 because everyone said we were fools to do it.

In those days, Delta let me bring three large seventy pound bags, filled with books and never charged me for excess luggage.  When Russian customs tried to charge me fees, I smiled and told them to keep the books and drink them with their tea.  They always waved me through.

From the first day, Shakespeare and Company Moscow became the literary center for Expats and English speaking Russians.  Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Andrei Voznesensky and Masha Gessen, who now writes for the New York Times, were featured guests. We rapidly earned a reputation for our well-stocked lounge, which featured Starbucks Coffee, vodka and red wine.  Some readers would get tipsy while browsing for books. Yes, it helped improve the sales.

In the 90’s, Moscow was like the Wild West and I thrive in these dynamic, fast-moving environments.  We closed in 2003 after Putin’s corrupt bureaucrats and mafia made life difficult for small businesses.

If you could invite one writer living or dead to dinner, whom  would you select and where would you take them.
There are two. Erica Jong and David McCullough.  I’d take her to Jean-Georges in NYC. David McCulloughand I would go to the newly renovated Ritz. It’s not too late. They are both still living. I’m ever hopeful.

Who are some of your favorite French writers and books?
Colette and Simone de Beauvoir were fearless nontraditional role models. Simone chose her intellect over her heart and paid a heavy price in personal happiness.  Colette managed to have both.

After reading The Second Sex, I realized why I often felt out-of-step with society’s expectations. Beauvoir’s concept of alterity, living your life through others, revolutionized my thinking. I decided to forge my own path and not worry about the consequences. Financial independence was an important key to that decision.  My first article in the Huffington Post was “How I Retired Early and Moved to Paris.”   huffingtonpost.com/mary-duncan

What is the book you are currently writing?
The rue de la Bucherie is the focus of my current book.  It has a rich literary legacy intertwined with the history of the street.

You have a fascination with Henry Miller; you wrote the book Henry Miller is Under my Bed and have a large archive of original Henry Miller materials. What attracted you to Henry Miller’s work and your fascination with him?
Bradley Smith, a Time/Life photographer and writer, wrote two books with Henry Miller. As a result, he had an archive of Henry’s taped interviews, photographs and letters. I used to sit on the floor of Bradley’s home office in the hills of La Jolla, listening to Henry’s deep Brooklyn accent. Miller died in 1980, so I never met him. But I absolutely coveted those materials. After Bradley died in 1997, I purchased the archive from his estate as well as the rights to five of Bradley’s books.

Two years ago, Dorothy’s Gallery hosted an exhibit of the photographs.

Paris Writers Press Receives Grant for Translating Jean-Jacques Pauvert’s Memoir


The Paris Writers Press has received an award from the French Ministry of Culture and Communication through the National Book Center, to fund the translation of La Traversée du livre, a memoir written by the iconic French publisher Jean-Jacques Pauvert (1926 – 2014). The new English translation An Odyssey in Books, is scheduled to be available by December 2015. Éditions Viviane Hamy published the original French version in 2004.

In his prize-winning memoir La Traversée du livre  (An Odyssey in Books), Jean-Jacques Pauvert recounts in vivid detail, his meteoric rise to the top of the French book world, which started 1942 in the mailroom of Gallimard publishers.  By the tender age of twenty, he openly published the banned works of the Marquis de Sade leading to a protracted legal struggle with the French authorities. A similar firestorm erupted when he published Histoire D’O (The Story of O) in 1954, a daring work by Pauline Reage, a pseudonym used by Dominique Aury. His other authors included Gide, Sartre, Bataille, Genet, Beauvoir and Breton.

Pauvert’s memoir also describes his being arrested and jailed for three months by the Nazis for his role as a courier with the Resistance.

An Odyssey in Books is a captivating story of a young man figuring out how to be a publisher as he went along and an invaluable social history of art, literature, politics, and Parisian life from World War II to the May 1968 revolution.

The winner of the 2005 Elle Magazine Reader’s Grand Prize, the new English edition, An Odyssey in Books, was translated by Lynn Jeffress.

The National Book Center or Centre National du Livre (CNL) provides grants for translations of high quality French literature.  Since 2001, the National Book Center has supported more than 6,400 projects for translation from French into foreign languages.

In 2014, approximately 600,000 Euros were allocated for translations. The CNL funds from forty to sixty percent of translation costs. The Paris Writers Press will receive sixty percent, the maximum allocation.

The Paris Writers Press, founded by Mary Duncan in 2011, is a small independent press committed to publishing books, which focus on lingering social and political issues.  PWP publishes literary fiction, non-fiction, memoirs and French translations that relate to France.

For more information contact:  Mary Duncan   pariswriterspress@gmail.com   www.pariswriterspress.com


Social Media Etiquette : Five Tips for Writers in the Era of Twitter and Facebook


by Laurel Zuckerman, Editor of Paris Writers News

Writers are increasingly succumbing to loutish behavior on the social networks.  Here are a few tips for a return to civility in the #sm era:

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you

Consideration for others is the key to polite behavior on the internet as in real life. If you respect one and only one rule – treat others as you want to be treated yourself – you will be fine.

Here are some gentle questions to help you to adjust your behavior:

1) Do you enjoy following tweeters who write nothing but  « my book is great » and  « buy my book » ? Why not ?

2) You have NEVER bothered to « like » your writer friends’ book pages on Facebook, but your book is coming out tomorrow and your publisher wants you to ask your friends to like its Facebook page… This is ok, isn’t it ?

3) You are far too principled to write a five star review on Amazon/Goodreads/Librarything… just because the author is a friend (in fact you would be personally offended if a writer friend asked you to compromise your integrity), but the PR guy at your publisher is hysterical : can’t your friends write five star reviews quick, quick?

4) Facebook has this great feature that enables you to enroll your friends in groups of your own invention. And also to send messages to all your friends, including daily announcements about your terrific new book. Zuckerberg wouldn’t have invented if he didn’t want us to use it, would he ?

5) Advanced twitter users keep sticking your twitter handle in their tweets so that they appear in your email. Sometimes it’s great and make sense, but other times it’s so clearly self-promotion you can’t stand it. How to tell which is which ?

Bonus questions : What kind of Facebook posts and tweets do you personally appreciate? Are grateful for as an author ? Consider a favor you would be delighted to return?

If you’re in doubt about the do’s and don’ts of social media, don’t worry: we all are!

My pet peeves are reserved – not for authors trying to do their best – but for publishers who are too lazy to do serious PR themselves (and as a result are pushing it onto authors) and for social media giants like Facebook who keep changing the rules just as we begin to understand them.

If there is such confusion concerning the lines between the personal and the professional it is mostly because that’s how $100 billion companies like Facebook hope to earn their profits. So beware. Social media is new and still largely uncharted.  I hope these few simple questions will help you to navigate safely and successfully.