We’re thrilled to pieces to welcome Janet Skeslien Charles to join us for a spin around the dance floor at The Debutante Ball.
Janet is the author of Moonlight in Odessa and the first American recipient of the British prize for comedy romance, the Melissa Nathan Award. Originally from Montana, she lives in Paris, where she is the Programs Manager at the American Library. Her debut novel, which was based on her time as a Soros Fellow in Ukraine, has been translated into twelve languages.
Here’s what Publisher’s Weekly had to say about it:
“This darkly humorous debut explores the world of eastern European mail-order brides and the men who finance them. Daria, a savvy, warmhearted but standoffish secretary in Odessa, Ukraine, fears that her boss will fire her after she refuses his sexual advances. So to keep him busy (and to keep her job), she sets him up with her shallow friend, Olga, who promptly turns on Daria. Fearing imminent unemployment, Daria takes a second job at Soviet Unions, an Internet dating service that connects Western men with available Ukrainian women. As Daria, who is fluent in English, bridges the language gap between the women and foreign men, she wonders if she will ever find true love. The endearing and forthright Daria is the perfect guide through the trickery and sincerity of chaotic courtships and short-order love. The teetering dance between humor and heartbreak burns through this tale that takes place at the intersection of love and money, East and West, male and female.”
You can learn more about Janet and her books by visiting her at www.jskesliencharles.com.
We talked Janet into taking The Deb Interview. Keep reading to learn what she has to say about writing, living in Paris, and which character in her novel is based on Janet herself.
What is the strangest job you have ever had?
I was a ladies’ companion in Versailles. When I first started teaching in Paris, I was approached by a colleague, who asked me to give her 80-year mother English lessons. Madame Nathan was as scrawny as a day-old chicken wing and regal as a queen, truly a lovely lady. On top of teaching at a junior high, I gave twenty private lessons per week. My afternoons with Madame Nathan, and later with another woman in her building, who was the daughter of a baroness, were a moment of respite. I became quite good at preparing tea.
What is the best perk of your job?
I live in Paris, where there are readings in English almost every night of the week, but because I was so busy, I never had the time to go to them. Now that I am the programs manager at the American Library in Paris, it is my job to invite authors and organize the readings. And I finally have the time to go to readings – in fact, it is part of my job.
What are the hardest and easiest things about being a writer?
The easiest thing is writing. I love telling stories and playing with words. I am pretty opinionated and like to share my ideas through stories and personal essays. The process of writing can be hard, but it is rewarding. Anais Nin said, “We write to taste life twice.” I love this idea.
The hardest thing is wondering if anyone other than my mother will be interested in reading my work. It is tough to send a book or a story out on submission and to get rejected.
It is also tough for writers to get attention for their book when tens of thousands are published each year. Recent articles have pointed out that the majority of review space goes to male authors. It’s really not enough to write a book; you must be willing to put yourself out there. I enjoy interacting with readers and fellow writers and am happy to do it. I tweet, have a website and a blog, and am on Facebook. A big change because until last year, I didn’t even have a cell phone.
What is your advice for aspiring writers?
Don’t give up! On my blog, I recently interviewed New York Times bestselling author Laura Munson, who wrote fourteen books before her fifteenth was published. I spoke with another author, Thomas Kennedy, who wrote for twenty years before he sold his first short story for $20. I also wrote for twenty years before my book was sold. Sometimes that is what it takes.
Tell us a secret about the main character in your novel.
The main character in my novel is an email-order bride named Daria. She has an American friend named Jane from Montana. People always think I am Jane, since we have many basic things in common – age, nationality, similar names. But Jane is just the blurry lens through which Daria sees America. She is not an autobiographical character.
The truth is that Daria – Ukrainian, prissy, confident at home (in Odessa, Ukraine), but lost in a foreign country (America) – is me. Her character allowed me to express my own frustrations with living so far from home and to explore the question of whether the grass is greener on the other side of the world.
Wonderful answers, Janet! Thanks so much for joining us here today and giving us the inside scoop on your writing and your life. If we ask nicely, can we all come stay with you in Paris?