I started with an idea about a couple who runs a bed and breakfast in Mackinac Island, Michigan. That’s one of the places we love to vacation. But we’re even more passionate about visiting France, especially the South of France. So the idea evolved until I came up with Fia, a mom in her late 30s, living with her husband and 14-year-old boy/girl twins in the middle of Ohio. She has recently been laid off from her job as a newspaper reporter, and she receives a phone call from her Great-Uncle Martin who runs a bed and breakfast in France. He wants her to take over the B&B for the summer.
I knew this was a great jumping off point for the novel because who wouldn’t want to be summoned from a summer in Ohio to one in the South of France? Losing her job makes this a definite turning point for Fia and also frees her up to travel and find adventure.
And that could have been the entire novel, the story of how this family goes to France for three months and finds themselves isolated and trying new things. They’re entranced by the beauty of the countryside, seduced by the luscious food, and intrigued by all the family time the French spend together. But Fia learns that Uncle Martin has a secret from World War II, and things get more complicated.
I needed to throw in a little romance too because the South of France goes so well with passion. I mean, France is as famous for lovers as it is for wine and cheese, just ask Pepe Le Pew. Enter the attractive Christophe, a Frenchman from a black-market art dealer family, whose job is to seduce Fia so he can locate Uncle Martin’s secret.
In the book, the chapters switch from Fia’s story to Uncle Martin’s as he grapples with mistakes he made in the past and the way they are catching up with him.
I really loved writing Uncle Martin’s story. Part of his tales are based on my uncle’s war experiences. My Uncle Luther, who is 91 now, fought in Italy during World War II, and he has shared his stories with me.
I envisioned what it would be like for a naïve boy from Kentucky to suddenly find himself in Italy. Would he have time to appreciate the gnarled olive trees or would he be too busy dodging bullets as he celebrated his 18th birthday crouching behind a stucco house painted the color of the sunset?
My imagination was further enhanced by a story on NPR that led me to pick up the book Rescuing DaVinci: Hitler and the Nazis Stole Europe’s Great Art – America and Her Allies Recovered It.
But Americans didn’t always save the art, sometimes they took home souvenirs, and would a country bumpkin like Uncle Martin realize the importance of the found artwork?
So Uncle Martin, far from perfect, wanted to hide from his mistakes as criminals tracked him down, and Fia needed to help rescue him from his blunders.
Fia is left to protect her family, including Uncle Martin, while trying to resist the temptations she faces in France.
About The Book
Title: The Summer of France
Author: Paulita Kincer
Publisher: Oblique Presse
Publication Date: July 1, 2013
Format: Paperback / eBook / PDF
Genre: Women's Fiction / Travel / Adventure
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Barnes & Noble: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-summer-of-france-paulita-kincer/1113110596?ean=9781300257332
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Book Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_kCyorexMfo
When Fia Jennings loses her job at the local newspaper, she thinks she'll have the chance to bond with her teenage twins. As she realizes she may be too late to create the perfect family, she's saved by a phone call from her great Uncle Martin who operates a bed and breakfast in Provence. Uncle Martin wants Fia to venture to France to run the B&B so he and his wife Lucie can travel. He doesn't tell Fia about the secret he hid in the house when he married Lucie after fighting in World War II, and he doesn't mention the people who are tapping his phone and following him, hoping to find the secret.
The quiet of the house mocked me as I rummaged through the Sunday paper looking for the travel pages. I ignored the meticulously folded “Help Wanted” section of the newspaper and the yellow highlighter that my husband had placed on the counter to remind me that I’d been unemployed for two months and needed to find a job – soon. The ring of the kitchen phone saved me from isolation and from a job search as the thick accent of my aunt came across the crackly line inviting me to move to France.
After a few sentences in the language that Aunt Lucie considered English, she handed the phone to my great uncle Martin, and I heard his booming voice.
“Fia?” he called as if using a bullhorn rather than a telephone. Uncle Martin, the baby of my grandfather’s family, ventured overseas as a teenager to fight in World War II, found a French wife, and stayed.
I’d never traveled to France to visit him, but Uncle Martin always came home for the family reunion at the beginning of summer.
Hearing his voice on the phone, I glanced at the wall calendar, assuring myself it was late June and Uncle Martin’s visit had ended nearly two weeks before.
“Uncle Martin! What a surprise. How’s life in France?” I asked in a quiet voice meant to encourage him to lower his volume.
Uncle Martin continued to bellow. “Look, Fia, let me get right to the point.” He hadn’t lost his American directness. “Lucie and I are tired.
We need a break, maybe a permanent break.”
“What?” I gasped my voice growing louder to match his. “You and Aunt Lucie are…but you can’t be…you can’t break up?”
“No,” I heard his old man grunt across the phone lines. It sounded as if he said something like “Zut!”
“Listen. Don’t jump to conclusions,” he chastised me. “We’re tired of working so hard. We’re old and it doesn’t look like any of Lucie’s relatives are gonna step forward and take over. That’s why I’m calling. Will you and Grayson come over and run this place?”
“This place” is what Uncle Martin always called the eight-room bed and breakfast that he and Aunt Lucie ran in a small village in Provence. Lucie’s family had owned the home for generations, wringing olive oil from the trees and wine from the grape vines. But as big cities and ample education called, the younger branches of the family moved away. When Uncle Martin and Aunt Lucie found themselves the only ones living in the big, old house during the 1970s, they decided to capitalize on a tourism boom and turned the house into a bed and breakfast. They encouraged American and English tourists to stay, and, after A Year in Provence came out in 1990, their business exploded with people who wanted to see the land that Peter Mayle described.
“We thought you could take over,” Uncle Martin blared, “obviously, since you’re not working.”
Thanks, Uncle Martin, for reminding me again of my current jobless status. When a huge conglomerate bought our local newspaper and combined resources with the paper in the next town, I became superfluous. So, after years of writing about home design, I sat staring at my own shoddy decorating. I tried to look on the bright side. Now I actually had time to try some of those design tips. To add depth to the alcove next to the fireplace, I painted it a darker color. Next I added crown molding around the opening from the living room to the dining room.
So far, mostly, I spent my time trying to stay positive so an amazing job would find me, and I watched cable TV shows about happy families. Who knew The Waltons was on five times a day? Mix that with the Duggars, that family with 19 kids on TLC, and my days just flew past. I slowly realized that driving my kids to sporting events and extracurricular lessons did not count as quality time. Inspired by those TV families, I amplified my efforts to pull my 14-year-old twins closer. When they ambled home from school, I’d suggest some family activities. “Let’s draw a hopscotch on the driveway!” I’d say. Their eyes rolled wildly in their heads like horses about to bolt. “How about making homemade bread together? We can all take turns kneading? Or maybe an old fashioned whiffle ball game in the backyard?”
They suggested we go out for pizza or visit a sporting goods store for new soccer cleats or swim goggles. I declined, picturing the credit card bills I juggled now that I didn’t have an income.
Bills. Ooh! I couldn’t see Uncle Martin’s invitation to France winning approval from my husband, Grayson, who had just been complaining about money.
As a two-income family, we had paid bills on time and planned our next extravagant purchase. Of course, my pragmatic husband, the almost accountant, never used credit cards. But with my own income, I wasn’t that concerned about using credit cards. When I started to run a balance, I made the minimum payment every month. No need to inform Grayson who would’ve disapproved of my indulgences. Not that I bought things for myself. Nothing but the best for our kids with their private swim clubs, technologically engineered swimsuits, travel soccer teams, and state-of-the-art skateboards. I hadn’t bothered to save for an emergency but spent and charged as I went along until the bottom dropped out of journalism.
“Uncle Martin, you know we’ve always dreamed of visiting you and Aunt Lucie, but without a job now, I just… I can’t see it working financially.”
“I’m not talking about a visit,” his voice grew agitated. “I’m talking about you moving in here and running the bed and breakfast. I’d send the plane fare to get you here. You, Grayson and the twins.”
I sat stunned for a moment, so Uncle Martin repeated himself.
“I’ll send you the tickets. I’ll just buy them online for you, Grayson and the twins. Both of them.”
My kids were always “the twins,” as if sharing a womb 14 years earlier made them one entity for the rest of their lives.
“Whoa. That is heavy stuff,” I slid onto the swiveling bar stool. “We can’t just move. Leave our house, school, Grayson’s job.”
Even as I said it, I felt hope rising in my chest. Yes! I waited for a job to come to me and it did. A spectacular opportunity. I pictured myself in a flowing skirt and low-heeled, leather sandals walking along a dusty road away from the market that would line the village streets. I’d carry a canvas bag with French bread jutting from the top as I headed home, the pungent fragrance of a cheese wafting from the bottom of the bag. Although I’d never been to France, I watched any sunny movie set in Europe. The women always wore skirts and had leisure time to linger along the roadside, smelling the lavender.
I heard the front door slam and my husband’s heavy footfall in his casual Sunday topsiders as he came in from the office. Even on a Sunday, the work at Grayson’s accounting firm was plentiful.
I turned my back on my approaching husband and said into the phone, “When are you thinking, Uncle Martin?”
“I’m thinking… NOW. Last week,” Uncle Martin’s voice rose again. I cupped my hand over the phone to try to smother the sound of his bellowing. “I’m tired of dealing with these snippy tourists. I want to roam around the world and give other innkeepers a hard time.”
“You make the job sound so enticing,” I tried to laugh lightly so Grayson, who was drawing nearer, wouldn’t realize the importance of this conversation. The idea began to form in the back of my mind: We could make this happen -- with a little cooperation. I shot a hopeful glance toward Grayson as he walked in the room. I quickly raised my eyebrows twice, which I thought should give him an indication that good news was on the phone. He looked grim and tired – the horizontal line between his own eyebrows resembled a recently plowed furrow.
“Look, I’ll have to call you back later,” I hissed into the phone and punched the button to hang up as Grayson threw his aluminum briefcase on the island. His look turned from grim to suspicious.
“Uncle Martin,” I said with a blasé wave toward the phone. “He has a business proposal…”
I tried to sound nonchalant, but I guess my eagerness showed because Grayson dropped his head on top of his briefcase for just a minute before he stepped toward the cabinet over the refrigerator. He opened the door and pulled down a bottle of Scotch.
This conversation might prove more difficult than I’d anticipated.
About The Author
Paulita Kincer is the author of three novels, The Summer of France, I See London I See France, and Trail Mix. She has an M.A. in journalism from American University and has written for The Baltimore Sun, The St. Petersburg Times, The Tampa Tribune, and The Columbus Dispatch. She currently teaches college English and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband and three children.
Connect with Pauliat:
Author Website: paulitakincer.com
Author Blog: http://paulita-ponderings.blogspot.com/
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