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Passport: France- Author Craig McDonald on 1920′s France + GIVEAWAY!

Submitted by on February 21, 2011 – 5:00 am13 Comments
“If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris…then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.”

— Ernest Hemingway

An amorous axiom:

Paris = passion.

Great scenery, great food, great wine.

And those words: There’s a reason they call French a “Romance Language.”

is the fourth novel in my series about Hector Lassiter, a 20th Century novelist and sensualist notorious for “living what he writes and writing what he lives.”

Vive la différence: Each novel in the Lassiter series has endeavored to be markedly different from the one that precedes it and from the installment that follows.

Despite the various personal creative challenges I set for myself as its author, there is one element that has remained consistent throughout the Lassiter series. Hector is, from book to book, confronted by formidable women who leave sometimes dark but always lasting marks on his psyche and soul. Simply put, women run this man’s life.

After entangling Hector with three lovers ranging the spectrum from light to very dark, it seemed appropriate in the middle range of Hector’s saga to present the woman who truly made Hector into Hector. The time seemed ripe, in essence, to reveal Hector’s first great love.

My central aim in was to depict the romantic figure in Hector’s storied life. I aimed to portray the woman who most profoundly shaped Hector Lassiter as a lover, as writer and as the shades-of-gray heroic figure readers have come to know in the previous three novels.

Having established Hector as “The Last Man Standing of the Lost Generation” and as a friend and contemporary of Ernest Hemingway, it was also high time to fully explore a heady period in Hector’s life alluded to (and in the previous novel , briefly depicted): namely, Hector’s apprenticeship as an aspiring literary writer in the City of Lights, circa 1924.

The term “Lost Generation” was one made famous by Ernest Hemingway, but purportedly coined by Gertrude Stein. Hemingway regarded the label as Stein’s way of snidely short-handing the post World War I generation — a generation she dismissed as having been rendered nihilistic, hedonistic and aimless after the ravages of World War I and a post-war/pre-Depression economic boom. Lost Generation men are largely remembered as sulky hard drinkers who spoke in laconic, Hemingwayesque short sentences and rued the darkness.

It was the women, really, who defined my own enduring sense of the Lost Generation — women like Hemingway’s Brett Ashley and her real-life inspiration, Lady Duff Twysden.

The women of the Lost Generation were finally voting and pursuing careers and higher education. But most of them were also wearing a hell of a lot less. These intrepid young heartbreakers were drinking and smoking and flirting with profanity as well as with any man who struck their fancy.

Women were, for the first time in Western history, openly carnal and nowhere was that more true than in 1920s France.

In Paris, in the early to middle 1920s, hormones raged and sex dominated the scene.

Only in Paris could a Midwestern minister’s daughter such as Sylvia Beach so radically reinvent herself, embracing lesbianism and, as a bookseller, daring to publish the U.S.-banned Ulysses by James Joyce.

Only in Paris could Josephine Baker dance topless in a banana skirt and Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas unabashedly live as lovers.

Open marriages were practically invented in 1920s Paris. Performers tantalized fans with androgynous alter egos. Man Ray and others spiced gallery walls with images of erotic nudes.

The ménage et trois was arguably a more prevalent domestic reality than monogamy in the 1920s City of Lights.

In France, in the Twenties, it seemed to many that only conventionality was unconventional.

And, so, in this erotically charged milieu, Hector Lassiter meets the enticing and mysterious mystery writer Brinke Devlin, a dark-haired, dark-eyed lusty enigma who rocks Hector’s world not just in this novel, but across the balance of his life.

Brinke, a kind of blending of the silent screen siren Louise Brooks and the mystery novelist Craig Rice, is a few years older and ages wiser than Hector. In her own intrepid way, Brinke has already charted the course Hector will follow as an author and screenwriter.

But Brinke is also darkly unpredictable, in and out of bed.

One key earlier reader has called OTS my “sex book.” Guilty as charged. Hemingway said the responsibility of the writer is to find what is true and then depict it in such a way that it becomes a part of the experience of the person who reads it. Paris, in February 1924, was drenched in sex and, consequently, so is this book. Fair warning: Lovers of cozy mysteries and chaste romance should steer far clear of this novel. The characters in have strong urges and they indulge them.

But is also a book about romantic passion and two darkly creative, imaginative and arguably damaged people trying to establish meaningful intimacy and abiding ties in the midst of the booze-fueled, citywide orgy that was 1920s Paris.

And there are other women in OTS who equally drive the narrative and young Hector’s life — from the formidable and imperious Gertrude Stein, to a British mystery writer specializing in “locked room mysteries,” and a passionate young poetess with her own dangerous secrets and amorous designs on Hector.

Always, as a swooning backdrop to this novel, there is Paris.

I fell in love with Hemingway’s version of Paris as a young man upon a first reading of . In my naïve early 20s, I nursed this notion of running off to the City of Lights and living Hemingway’s memoir. Never mind the fact Hemingway had an exchange rate in his favor that has never again been equaled in history. Never mind the fact I then spoke not much more French than ala mode.

Hemingway’s version of 1920s Paris seduced me and has never truly let go of my imagination.

In , I aimed to take that intoxicating vision of the City of Lights and cast a shadow across both banks of the Seine.

In March, my French publisher is bringing me to France for a couple of crime fiction conferences. I aim to haunt Hem’s (and Hector’s) Parisian haunts; to explore the city of Lyon that figures in a yet-to-be-published Lassiter novel. I mean to see precisely how closely life-imitates-art-imitates-life.

It’s a long time since the 1920s’ Paris that Hem and Hector would have known. A hell of a lot of water has coursed under all those picturesque bridges that join the banks of Paris.

Yet the city, they claim, is ageless in her way. She remains THE place that unfailingly evokes Romance with a capital “R.”

An old line has it that Paris, like an enticing woman, “Will kiss you, or kill you but never bore you.”

As an older Hem wrote of Paris in a magazine article long after he’d left her, “She is like a mistress who does not grow old and she has other lovers now…she is always the same age and she always has new lovers.”

That said, whether it’s on the page or in person, once you’ve had her — once she’s had you — like your first lover, you always have Paris and she always owns some part of you, body and soul.

Edgar®—nominee Craig McDonald is an award-winning journalist, editor and fiction writer. His short fiction has appeared in literary magazines, anthologies and several online crime fiction sites.
His debut novel, Head Games, was published by Bleak House Books in September 2007. Head Games was selected as a 2008 Edgar®—nominee for Best First Novel by an American Author. Head Games was also a finalist for the Anthony, Gumshoe and Crimespree Magazine awards for best first novel.
His nonfiction books include Art in the Blood, a collection of interviews with 20 major crime authors which appeared in 2006, and Rogue Males: Conversations and Confrontations About the Writing Life, a second collection of interviews published by Bleak House Books in 2009.
McDonald was also a contributor to the NYT’s nonfiction bestseller, Secrets of the Code. He recently won national awards for his profiles of crime novelists James Crumley, Daniel Woodrell, James Sallis and Elmore Leonard.
He is a member of the Mystery Writers of America, the International Association of Crime Writers, Sisters in Crime and a contributing columnist to Crimespree Magazine.

*Paperback Dolls wish to thank the amazing Craig McDonald for participating in our Passport to France feature. Not only is he one of our favorite crime fiction authors he is one of our favorite guests to host. If you have yet to read his Hector Lassiter series we strongly recommend them and encourage you to visit Craig’s website to learn more about him and his other works.


Paris, 1924. A city teeming with would-be poets, writers, and painters. Hector Lassiter, fledgling author and best friend of Ernest Hemingway, is crossing the Pont Neuf when he hears a body fall into the icy Seine — the first in a string of brutal murders of literary magazine editors that throw a shroud over the City of Light.
Frantic to stop the killings, Gertrude Stein gathers the most prominent crime and mystery writers in the city, including Hector and the dark, mysterious crime novelist Brinke Devlin. Soon, Hector and Brinke are tangled not only under the sheets, but in a web of murders, each more grisly than the next.

As he is drawn deeper into the hunt, Hector finds himself torn between three women with hidden agendas and dark imaginations. When Hector learns that the murders may be the work of a strange cult of writers who are targeting the literary set, Hemingway, Hector, and Brinke must scramble to find the killer before they become the next victims.

A Moveable Feast meets The Dante Club in this ­­­­exquisite mystery that takes readers from the cafés of Montparnasse, through the historic graveyards of Paris, to the smoky backrooms of bookstores and salons. As dark as the shadowy banks of the Seine and as addictive as absinthe, this unforgettable book will grab you and never let go.

We are giving away a signed copy of Craig McDonald’s latest book “One True Sentence”. To win simply leave a comment in this post and answer this question : What time period do you think was the most interesting in Paris?

More ways to win:

+1 for each place you post about today’s contest on your blog, social network, or anywhere you can. Digg it, stumble it, twit it, share it with the world. Wherever you share it, make sure you add a link to it along with your comment.

Giveaway ends March 12th and the winner will be chosen by on March 13th. We ask the winners to post a review of the novel someplace. Whether it is on their own blog, Amazon, GoodReads, LibraryThing or wherever, it doesn’t matter. Just help get the word out. Also, we will try to contact the winners, but we ask that you check back to see if you’ve won.

Bon Chance!
Paperback Dolls is made up of women from different parts of the world, with different backgrounds, different tastes and beliefs that were brought together through a love of reading. We like to think of ourselves as a cyber version of "The View" that focuses on books, authors, and reading. We are proof positive that one common love can unite the most opposite of people and form lasting friendships that introduce other ways of life and perspectives to each other.
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  • Natasha says:

    Great post! I wanted to let you know, I gave you guys an award over at my blog!

    Reply to this comment »
  • Day says:

    Really great post! I can NOT wait to read One True Sentence.

    BIG "Thank you" to Craig McDonald for being a part of our France feature:)

    Reply to this comment »
  • Thank you so much for allowing me to participate!

    Reply to this comment »
  • Anne says:

    I adore Hemingway! Thank you so much for this great article!

    I think there is something really sexy about Paris in the 1920's through the 50's. I'm not sure if it is my favorite time period, but it's definitely one of them.

    I can't wait to read this series!

    Reply to this comment »
  • Mona says:

    Wow! That sheds some light on a novel I just finished. And people think the current generation is too liberated.

    I can't wait to read this. Great post.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Mona- It does shed a tiny bit of light, doesn't it? Craig will be stopping at Murder By The Book again soon.

    Reply to this comment »
  • BLHmistress says:

    I am curious about the 1800's in Paris I love that era and would interested in how my fave era plays out in Paris.


    Reply to this comment »
  • Thanks so much again, Day; actually, I was at Murder by the Books this past Saturday. Sunday I was in Austin, and Tuesday I'm at Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale…kind of a brisk run through the southwest.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Jane says:

    I just wanted to tell you all that I went yesterday to get this book because of this post. It sounds really good and like it will be a welcome change to my reading repitoire, but my book store didn't have it so I ordered the first 3 books. Do they need to be read in order?

    Reply to this comment »
  • Day says:

    Hi Jane! You are going to LOVE these books! They do not need to be read in order. But, I would suggest reading Toros and Torso's first.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Eowyn says:

    I can't wait to read this book! Thank you for your post. Paris in any generation is a marvel to behold.

    Reply to this comment »
  • Italia Marie says:

    Wonderful article!

    I want this book so badly, please enter me!

    Reply to this comment »
  • LSUReader says:

    I think visiting Paris in the time between the two World Wars would be fascinaing. It would be great to share the city with Hemingway, Picasso and Stravinsky! Since I can't, I'll have to read One True Sentence to catch up. Thanks for a great column. (Email in profile.)

    Reply to this comment »