Michelle Gable is the author of the New York Times and USA Today bestseller A PARIS APARTMENT and her new release I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS both published by St. Martin’s Press/Thomas Dunne Books. She has been a treasured WWWB sponsor, and I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS is a WWWB featured book for February 2016. Like all bestselling authors, Michelle’s background is in finance, specializing in investor relations.
When she is not relating to investors or writing bestsellers, she is smashing tennis balls across long green courts, out-barring teachers in her beloved barre classes, and waving foam fingers at San Diego Chargers football games. The word ‘superfan’ was invented for Michelle. She lives in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California with her husband, two daughters, a lazy cat, and a temperamental bunny (whom Michelle claims not to enjoy sharing her house with, yet when lost, searched every bush and garden until he was found).
[The interviewer should disclose that she and Michelle have been friends for over twenty years, but seeing how that is impossible since they’re only twenty-eight years old, she will leave that unsaid. On with the interview! ]
Thank you for joining us, Michelle. We’re thrilled to have you.
Let’s start from the beginning, your beginning.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in sunny San Diego…specifically, coastal North County. My parents still live in my childhood home.
What were you like as a kid? A teen?
I’m a typical first born—driven, responsible, and rule-abiding. An avid reader from an early age, I was friendly though quiet at times. I’ve always been a positive, upbeat person and even during the awkward years I was mostly self-assured and confident.
All in, there’s not much difference between then and now other than I’m a little more outspoken as an adult. I used to hate giving presentations but between my “day job” and book tours public speaking doesn’t faze me anymore.
My favorite word changes daily but I adore the term “confidence trickster.” I heard it on the television show Fawlty Towers and because I’ll See You in Paris takes places in 1970s England, I used it in my book.
Oh gosh, that’s tough. Probably the citrus chili yellowtail sashimi from a local sushi place.
I’m an exceptional packer! My boss is always amazed. I can go to Europe for two weeks in the snow and despite bringing suits and workout clothes and everyday wear, I only ever need a carry-on. This surprises anyone who knows how much I love clothes and shoes!
Craziest thing you’ve done to support the Chargers?
Listen, you might call it crazy, but I consider myself very supportive.
Hmmm, where to start? A month or two ago both The L.A. Times and Sports Illustrated featured a picture of me yelling like a maniac and holding up a sign. I was very proud to make The L.A. Times twice in 2015—once on their bestseller list and once in the sports pages.
I’ve also put my life in jeopardy for this team. Way back in 1994, the Chargers played the Steelers in the AFC Championship game. I was returning to college after winter break and had a layover in Pittsburgh while the game was on. Not only did I watch in a Steelers bar while donning head-to-toe Chargers gear, I wasn’t even twenty-one!
How old were you when you wrote you first book? What was it called and about?
It was in middle school…I can’t remember its title but it involved a bunch of teenagers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. It was terrible.
What is I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS about?
I’ll See You in Paris is based on the real life of Gladys Spencer-Churchill, the Duchess of Marlborough, a woman whose life was so rich and storied it could fill several books. Nearly a century after Gladys’s heyday, a young woman’s quest to understand the legendary Duchess takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a dilapidated manse kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris, where answers will be found at last. In the end, she not only solves the riddle of the Duchess, but uncovers the missing pieces in her own life.
The idea for I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS came out of the research you did for A PARIS APARTMENT. Is that right?
Yep! Artist Giovanni Boldini is a central character in my debut novel A Paris Apartment. Back in the Gilded Age, you weren’t anyone unless he painted you and so I studied every person Boldini ever rendered. When I stumbled upon Gladys Deacon, I knew she had to get top billing in a future novel. She’s too delicious to leave to history!
I used many of the Duchess’s expressions, mannerisms, and real-life stories throughout the novel. Yes, she disappeared from her palace. Yes, she turned up in a dilapidated Grey Gardens-style manse forty years later. Yes, she chased people with guns. My only problem was picking from the litany of bedlam.
Mixed in with this I wanted to incorporate a modern-day storyline. The post-9/11 angle struck me as ideal given a large chunk of the tale takes places in the final years of the Vietnam War. The juxtaposition of the two wars intrigued me: one very much supported (at least at first) and one vastly out of favor.
In both of your first books, you go back and forth between a moment in history and present day. What draws you to this contemporary slash historical style as opposed to straight historical fiction?
I think I like to write in multiple time periods because those are my favorite books to read. I’ve written straight historical novels in the past but it’s more fun to include both. Probably because I relish the extra complexity and resulting headaches!
A great deal of research goes into your books. What are your go-to sources? Where do you recommend writers start when they need information about an era or geographical setting that is different from their own?
Research is my favorite aspect to being a writer. I love hunting for facts and stories and even a sense of atmosphere through various methods such as the internet, interviews, newspapers, out-of-print books, personal collections in libraries, old magazines, and, of course, traveling! I’ll even watch television programs vaguely related to whatever I’m working on. I mentioned Fawlty Towers above and I also watched every episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show while working on I’ll See You in Paris. Not exactly “real” research but it got me in the mood!
The internet is a great place to begin. You can put together a quick outline and then fill it in with more depth and accuracy through documents, books, and interviews. I always begin with the major events happening in the years the book takes place (wars, presidential elections, and yes football games) and go from there. This sounds ridiculous but I usually start on Wikipedia. Not as “research” per se but because the site’s summary nature offers a digestible, less overwhelming context. Then the real research begins.
What other historical periods are you interested in exploring?
My third book, which will come out in 2017, is set in Nantucket and much of it takes place in the early 1940s as the U.S. is getting itself involved in WWII. Like so many readers I’m a sucker for WWII books but I wanted to broach this topic stateside instead of with the typical European bent.
My fourth book will likely take place during the Civil War era. I don’t see myself going much further back that the mid-1800s but that could change!
What is your writing process? (i.e., What does your early development look like? How long do you spend purely on research prior to writing? How long does it take you to write a book? Do you use beta readers or critique partners? Do you write your scenes in order or, say, all the historical and then all of the contemporary?)
I’ll See You in Paris is the first book I wrote on deadline. I had to complete it over a busy summer during my daughters’ All Stars softball season. This can involve up to twelve games per weekend at dusty, remote softball complexes throughout Southern California. I was nervous to bring my computer so wrote the entire book in pencil sitting behind dugouts and in my car. (I’m convinced other parents thought I was scouting). As it turns out, this made me feel closer to the characters and the plot and I loved “editing” as I typed it into Scrivener. Writing in longhand is now part of my “process.”
I spend several months researching before I start. Again, this is my favorite part of the process! Once it’s time to write, I plot out everything on index cards. Although I make many changes, it’s helpful to have a path, even if it veers in a different direction.
With an outline nailed down, I can crank out a first draft rather quickly. I aim for 1,500 words per day. As my books are around 100k, that takes about 2-3 months. Because I have to type my handwritten work, I edit along the way. That said, I will spend 1-2 months editing after the draft is complete before sending it to my agent and editor. In the editing stage I do more research… it’s easier to see where tidbits will fall when the story is mostly there.
Generally I write large chunks of one era before switching to the other—maybe ¼ to 1/3 of that particular period. When editing I’ll go through the entire book twice and then segregate each time period for a few rounds. After that I’ll return to the full book and read it out loud, usually once or twice.
I don’t have critique partners or beta readers other than my agent and editor.
What is the most meaningful or helpful advice you’ve been given in your writing career?
Stop in the middle of writing something (a scene, a paragraph) so it’s easier to pick back up the next day. Hemingway did this and it’s my #1 trick.
What advice do you have for writers who are new to publishing?
Keep going! Finish the book. Research the market. Decide what path you’re taking and how your road might look. And never give up. If the first book doesn’t sell, write another, and another, and another after that. Always be writing something new. Even when your book is out there! Never obsess over the rejections or negative reviews (which I don’t read). Write your way out of rejection or negativity. Keep moving forward.
What marketing tools and avenues have you found most effective for book sales?
It’s difficult to decide what works. I made the conscious decision with A Paris Apartment to spend my entire advance on marketing during its hardcover launch. It worked but what avenues were most beneficial is impossible to determine. Unfortunately!
I did various campaigns through Author Buzz, bought ads on Goodreads and other online venues, promoted Facebook stories, and sponsored sites like WWWB. My publicist did a hero’s job of getting the book into the hands of various bloggers and magazines, even ones that seemed tangentially related, such antique-focused publications.
For the paperback launch I hired a publicity firm that works only with radio stations and that helped tremendously. Leading up to the launch of I’ll See You in Paris, my publisher did a Bookbub promotion of A Paris Apartment and that week it hit the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists. That promotion worked but I believe it’s in part because of the promotion done before it.
What writers groups, associations, or communities have helped you along your path? Book bloggers or Facebook reading groups?
WWWB, the Womens Fiction Writers Association, and some online women’s fiction groups are crucial. Jennifer O’Regan promotes the heck out of books and I’ve been lucky to have some fabulous bloggers support me along the way. I’m also grateful for my local San Diego writers as well as the independent bookstores who’ve hand-sold so much of my work. The indie bookstores have played a major role in the success of A Paris Apartment.
What books are you reading right now?
I just finished The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell and it was phenomenal. I’m halfway done with Sarah McCoy’s The Mapmaker’s Daughter and it’s completely entranced me.
Manolos or Louboutins?
Shopping or spa?
Spa. I have a massage addiction.
Softball or Football?
Decline to answer. 😉
Favorite Wine or Favorite Cheese?
I like a good Justin Cabernet. Or Champagne because that means there’s a celebration!
Night owl or Early bird?
You’ve been a part of the WWWB family for a long time. We couldn’t be prouder of you or prouder to be a part of your success!
Other ways to bond with Michelle Gable –
I’LL SEE YOU IN PARIS is available –
“Readers of Kate Morton and those who enjoy family-centered mysteries will approve highly of this book.”
“Gable tells an engaging story of a fascinating historical figure against the backdrop of two fledgling romances.”
“Plot-master Michelle Gable’s affection for Paris and for hidden treasure emerges again in her second absorbing novel…[a] delightfully intricate tale…complex and moving…”
Other ways to bond with Michelle
Interviewed by –
MM Finck is a novelist, essayist, and book reviewer. Her women’s fiction is represented by Katie Shea Boutillier of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She is a regular contributor WWWB as well as overseeing the Author, Agent & Editor Interview segments. She is the contest chair for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association 2016 Rising Star writing contest for unpublished authors.
Her work has appeared in national and regional publications. When she isn’t working on her novel-in-progress, #LOVEIN140, she can be found belting out Broadway tunes (offkey and with the wrong words), cheering herself hoarse over a soccer match (USWNT! – 2015 WORLD CUP CHAMPIONS!!!!), learning to play piano (truly pitifully), repairing or building something around her house, and trying to squeeze more than twenty-four hours out of every day.