Leave Home and Learn
By Ellen Sussman
I’ve been a writer all my life. I write about contemporary life, about relationships and love and loss. I always push myself to go deeper as a writer, but it wasn’t until I pushed myself deeper as a person that I was able to make some real breakthroughs as a writer. How’d I manage that? I left the country.
My writing flourished after that experience of living abroad. I felt as if I could write more deeply about my characters’ experiences – because I understood my own in a new way. My eyes were wide open – and I tried to capture that every day when I sat down to write.
When I started to write a novel that took place in Paris, I began with an idea: how could one day in Paris, one hot summer day, change the lives of three Americans? As I entered their world, I saw the ways in which a foreign culture challenged them, opened them up, and took them someplace new. I could use all my knowledge about how living abroad – or even traveling abroad – gets under our skin and makes us feel different. I’ve never had so much fun writing a novel.
FRENCH LESSONS tells the story of one American ex-pat and two American tourists. One loves Paris, one hates it, and one is seeing it for the first time. All three grow to love the city by the end of the day. But, more importantly, they all come to know themselves because they are in a new, unfamiliar world.
I still travel a great deal. I’d still like to live abroad again for some length of time. The experience of leaving home is remarkably valuable for a writer – when we leave home we begin to learn ourselves in a brand new way. And we use that knowledge to deepen our fiction.