What a great way to start July! It’s my turn to host Cris Hammond who is on a virtual book tour with his extremely enjoyable From Here to Paris.
All expats are interesting people, since it takes a certain sort of person to up sticks and not just move, but move to another country, but some are definitely more interesting than others. For many, expatdom often happens as a result of unemployment, and this is Cris’s case. As he succinctly puts it in the blurb, “your life can fall apart just enough to allow you to put it back together again in a whole new way”. And what a way!
Cris, a cartoonist and then a boat photographer, buys a barge, Phaedra, and explores the French canal system. Phaedra needed a good bit of attention before the trip, and Cris had to grapple with plenty of other new challenges, such as French, France and dealing with locks. And that’s just for starters.
Cris and his wife Linda rise to the challenges they face as expats afloat. There are plenty of entertaining anecdotes as we follow Phaedra’s dignified progress along the French waterways, enjoying the scenery and sharing Cris’s ups and downs on the way. It’s a book of self-discovery as well sightseeing and, as a fellow expat in France, it paints a realistic picture of the country as seen through foreign eyes.
I asked Cris some questions about his book, barging and Paris.
What inspired you to write From Here to Paris?
It never occurred to me that what we were doing was “book worthy” at first. But I did know that lots of our friends thought that we were setting out to do something verging on the crazy, and they were always eager to hear the latest news, catastrophic or euphoric. I’d regularly send short stories back to a growing number of people who seemed to always be fascinated and asking for more. That kind of interest and support made me feel good, regardless of whatever immediate challenges we were facing. As time went on, the stories began to pile up and someone said, “Hey, why don’t you turn this into a book?” That was another thing I’d never done before, so, since we were into trying new adventures, I gave it a shot.
Please describe it in 100 words (ok, 113!)
From Here to Paris is the story of how we climbed out of our well-worn corporate trench, took a look around, and decided it was time to shake things up. It’s also the hilarious tale of selling the burdensome house, returning the leased cars, shredding the credit cards, and abandoning the mind-numbing commute in favor of a joyful struggle toward a fresh, more fulfilling life. One we imagined as being lived in jeans, and filled with leisurely afternoons aboard our Dutch barge, Phaedra, floating along glass-still canals through medieval villages and rolling vineyards of Burgundy toward our ultimate goal, to live on our barge in the shadow of Notre Dame, in Paris.
What’s the appeal of barging?
For me there are several things that recommend a barge over a house or an apartment. The first thing is that we’re always on the water. Living on the water can be a challenge at times, but it’s also almost always lovely, interesting, and relaxing. Another unique appeal is that the barge moves. We aren’t always cruising when we’re in France, but when the urge to go out to somewhere new hits, we can untie the lines and be gone. Phaedra is also extremely comfortable in a very compact space. From her stained glass windows that fill one wall, to her wonderfully carved woodwork that decorates her from bow to stern, living aboard her is like living in a varnished, glowing jewel box. To be honest though, I enjoy sitting in the cockpit in the evening, watching the sun go down with a glass of wine every bit as much as I love driving here through the canals and rivers of France. It’s all good.
What are your three favorite things about Paris?
The first thing is the feeling that comes over me of youth and joy when I’m on the streets of Paris. It’s hard to explain, but I feel like a kid again. Also, as I mention in the book, being an artist, I feel, when I walk through Paris, that I’m in a place that epitomizes an artistic approach to life. I love the museums, but I also love the way that Paris is a city that is made for walking. And I think this leads me to the third thing, the cafés. I can’t get enough of the people watching.
From Here to Paris has a great cover. Did you design it yourself?
Yes, I did.
Do you have any strange or quirky writing habits?
I don’t think so, unless you think having to wear a scuba diving wetsuit whenever I write is quirky. (I don’t wear the flippers though.) Other than that, I find myself writing a lot of dialogue and sometimes it’s as if I’m just taking dictation from the voices I’m hearing in my head. I used to write a syndicated daily comic strip. I’d write non-stop for two weeks, then draw for two weeks, in order to get a month’s worth of strips out. During the writing time, I was pretty much a zombie, lost into the world of my characters. I’d walk right past people I knew, mumbling to myself, without even seeing them. I don’t know though if, in the world of writers, that is all that unusual.
Tell us briefly about what book’s coming next.
Well, I’m continuing to write my short stories and adventures for the folks back home. I’m getting that feeling again from my readers that there’s another book in that growing collection.
What one snippet of advice would you give to aspiring self-published authors?
Get an editor that knows your voice and what you are trying say. Take their suggested edits as just that, suggestions. A good editor is invaluable, because we all have something to learn. But you’re a unique person with your own voice and your own story. Have faith in it.
What one snippet of advice would you give to anyone planning to visit France?
Give yourself enough time to enjoy your time past the jet lag malaise. See Paris but don’t try to see it all in one trip. You’ll be back. Also, try to get out of Paris and see other parts of the country. I’m convinced that France is one of the most beautiful countries on earth. It’s worth getting lost in the countryside for a week or two. You’ll be back.
Thanks to Cris for the great interview and photos.
Cris Hammond is a nationally known artist, cartoonist, and entrepreneur. His comic strip, Speed Walker, Private Eye, was seen daily in over 150 newspapers across the country, from The Miami Herald to The Seattle Sun Times, The San Diego Union, and The Minneapolis Star Tribune. His paintings of ships and the sea have appeared in galleries in Sausalito, San Francisco, Tiburon, and Carmel, California. He led special effects teams to Academy Awards for Special Effects in motion pictures including Star Trek IV, Innerspace, and The Abyss, among others. In 1994, facing penury, he left his artistic pursuits, bought a briefcase and a couple ties, and went out and got a real corporate job. Eight years and four more neckties later, he walked into his office one morning and was ambushed by the waiting Exit Interview Team, which informed him that he was, as of that moment, “out on his ear.”
After a suitable period of bi-polar careening between panic and reflection, he realized that he was too young to retire and too old to go looking for another corporate job. So, he sold the house, bought a barge in France and started painting again.
Now he and his wife, Linda, spend half the year in California living and working in their tiny art studio near San Francisco, and the other half doing the same thing on the barge in France. Piloting their 1925 Dutch barge Phaedra, they’ve meandered through more than 1200 kilometers of canals and rivers and negotiated more than 850 locks in their travels from the Rhone wine region, through Burgundy to Chablis and down the Seine into Paris.
Cris’s website: http://www.bargephaedra.com/
Call by other stop on his book tour by visiting http://francebooktours.com/2014/04/09/cris-hammond-on-tour-from-here-to-paris-2/
And finally enter a giveaway for Cris’s excellent and entertaining book.