Carol Callicotte

Author

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes! October 4, 2011

I’m ripping up my YA novel and starting over. Well, not completely. The main characters and the main story line (a first love story) will remain intact. At least, that’s the plan for now. The setting, however, is getting a makeover, French Riviera style.

That’s right. France!

The original form of FIRST TIMES AND SECOND CHANCES spilled from my pen when I was thirteen. I spent a couple years working on the story, typing it up on my Grandmother’s word processor and printing it out on her dot matrix printer (yikes – that makes me feel old!). It took place at a summer camp, and I’ve never changed that setting.

Over the past couple years, I’ve reworked this story several times, keeping the bones (which were surprisingly good, I have to say) but updating and maturing the story, adding more plot, more tension, more character development. I kept the original setting because it seemed to work – I needed a place where a bunch of teens who didn’t know each other would be together all hours of the day and night for a stretch of time. Still, the summer camp setting never sat well with me. It targets a younger audience; 15 and 16 year olds just don’t tend to go to summer camp. As much as I love the story, I finally had to admit to myself: the setting is getting in the way of selling this book.

Then, it hit me. I love France. I’ve spent a ton of time there. I’ve enrolled in two language immersion programs. The one I did in Antibes had: (ta da!) a program for teens! Teens, spending the summer together with a bunch of strangers, living together in youth hostels, having activities organized for them, and taking French classes together! THIS IS IT! This works! I know this. I can write this. I can have a fantastic time with this.

So Jenni, grab your French/English dictionary, your bikini, and get a passport. You are going to Antibes, France, on the Cote d’Azur, and we’re going to have some fun!

 

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Work in Progress: Memoir February 24, 2009

Filed under: France,French Language,Projects,Travel,Writing — A French American Life @ 3:44 pm
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I, like so many before me, am joining the memoir club. I intended to start on my memoir four years ago, but kept getting sidetracked by other projects. But now I am finally working on it. I’ve struggled with how to write it: the crux of the story focuses on the time I spent living in Paris and attending a French language school, but also integral to the story are my adventures with several French friends while they were in San Diego in an English immersion program. I’m not quite sure how to frame the story – chronological seems boring, so I’ve settled, for now, on framing it in Paris, with flashbacks to the experiences in San Diego. At this point, I’m not going to worry about it. I’m just writing; I’ll piece the puzzle together when it’s on paper.

These memories, and how best to write them in a story, have been swirling around in my head ever since my time in Paris five (!) years ago. I’ve written clips of narratives over the years, but only now am I diving head-first into the pool of memories. Time, many more trips to France, and marriage to a Frenchman have affected the way I interpret my experience there and have tempered my approach to this memoir. Funny how that works. The memoirist writes as two authors: the person they were at the time, and the person they have evolved into. I think it’s good that I’ve waited to write this story, for I feel it will be a much better book now than it would have been had I written it right away. So far, my approach is to write what I remember, then to compare this to the extensive journals I kept. It’s a fun time to revisit. I only hope I can capture the passion I feel for Paris, for the French language, for the people of France, for traveling, and on a more personal level – turning 30 and learning how I wanted to define my life.

 

Speaking of Merde… August 7, 2008

Filed under: France,French Language — A French American Life @ 8:35 am
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Often, when people learn a new language, the first words they learn are the curse words.  This was true for me with Spanish – as a kid, when my dad worked on the family car, I learned all sorts of great Spanish words.  Perhaps he thought that if he swore in a different language, his impressionable little ones wouldn’t pick up on it.

Oh, but we did.

With French, it was different.  I began studying French when I was 28 with the sweetest, most patient French professor ever.  (Madame Loiseau – merci pour tout!)  I didn’t give much thought to enriching my vocabulary in that direction; I needed to say “hello” and “goodbye” and “sorry about that, I’m a huge klutz.”

A year later, while living in Paris and attending a French immersion program, I used to spend mornings before school watching Inside the Actors Studio, broadcast in English with French subtitles.  The host, James Lipton, always wrapped up the show by asking each actor he was interviewing the same five questions, one of which was, “What is your favorite curse word?”

Thus, I learned the good stuff.

The funny thing, though, is it all seems like nonsense to me.  A lot of these words have no direct translation, and since I don’t always know the connotation and I’m not used to hearing them used, I don’t have a good feel for how vulgar or tame they really are.  Merde, for example, is somewhere on the scale between “crap” and “shit.”  A kid will get in trouble for saying it, but an adult throwing it into normal conversation, even in a French class, will at most garner a few giggles.  The word putain is listed in my French/English dictionary as “whore” or “goddam,” or “bloody” if you’re British.  But, actually, it’s the French equivalent of the “f” word.

Enter my brother-in-law.  I adore my brother-in-law, Lionel; he’s a lot of fun and a great person.  But (sorry, Lionel) sometimes, when he speaks, I wonder if I really do speak French at all.  He uses so many colloquialisms and slang words that I can hardly follow what he’s saying sometimes.  And – he’s got a potty mouth.

I learned a new phrase this last trip to France.  Lionel came from Lyon to Antibes to visit us one weekend, and a woman walked off the train at an earlier stop with his suitcase.  Several hours later, she called him to let him know about the “mix-up.”  When he hung up his phone, he said, or rather yelled, “Grosse Conne!”  Literally, it translates to “huge idiot.”  Doesn’t sound so bad, right?

Back in Paris a few weeks later, we were joking with Lionel about the incident, and I mimicked the way he had screamed at his closed cell phone.  I didn’t quite yell it, but I said it loud enough that my mother-in-law came running into the room in a state of near panic and said, in French, “Was that Carol?  It couldn’t be!”  I suddenly felt like a misbehaving twelve-year-old.  So, I did what any twelve-year-old would do: I blamed it on someone else.  “Lionel taught it to me.”  Turns out it’s quite a bit more vulgar than “huge idiot.”  Which is impossible to know unless you spend time with native speakers and embarrass yourself several times.  I try to take the safe route – I want to know these words so I can tell if I’m being insulted, but I tend to not say them.

Except for merde.  I like that one.