Mary Bly on Her New Memoir, 'Paris in Love'

The author tells us what she learned about France, food, fashion and family

by Lesley Kennedy • Reporter
mary bly image
Mary Bly (Eloisa James) writes of family, food and fashion in her memoir, "Paris in Love."
Photograph: Photo courtesy of Bryan Derballa

Ever dream of ditching your house, your cars and your job to run off to a romantic foreign country for a year? After losing her mother to ovarian cancer, and fighting her own bout with breast cancer, bestselling author Mary Bly (who writes under the pen name Eloisa James) did just that, moving her Italian husband and two children, Luca, then 15, and Anna, then 11, from New Jersey to Paris for a year.

The daughter of noted poet Robert Bly and accomplished writer Carol Bly describes her time spent in the City of Light in her new memoir, Paris in Love (Random House), published April 3.

We recently spoke with Bly about why she chose to write the book in Facebook-like vignettes, what she learned about fashion from observing the style habits of French women and why two bites of crème brûlée are better than none. An edited version of the interview follows.

MORE: This may seem like an obvious question, but why Paris? 
Mary Bly: We’d been to Florence many times, and I wanted to escape. I didn’t want to go to Italy and be someone’s daughter-in-law. I really meant what I said in the book: I wanted to live someone else’s life . . . The second thing was, it had an Italian school [her children are bilingual]. There are Italian schools in Barcelona, Paris and London and they’re fabulous and they’re free for Italian citizens like Luca and Anna. And another thing was, when I was in college I had lived in Paris and I had very dear memories of it so I wanted to go back.

MORE: You wrote the memoir in Facebook statuslike snippets. Why did you choose that route?
MB: My dad’s a poet, so one of my clearest memories as a kid was when he would be writing prose poetry and he had all of us writing prose poetry. And, when I was in Paris—I didn’t want to forget that year. I’m at this stage now, where, because my dad was forgetting everything and because my children were getting older, I was realizing that I had forgotten almost whole years of my life—they were kind of just a blur. So I started shaping these snippets, and it took a lot of work figuring out how to grab a minute very fast and keep it. I wanted to keep my impression, not only of Paris, but also of my children, so that when they grew up they could look back and have this year—and so I could look back and remember Anna at 11 years old.

MORE: It seems like we're also getting really used to reading in 140-character bites.
MB: I wanted the book to be like an escape. I wanted to encourage women: You can do this. You can have breast cancer, have something happen, and do something that sounds frightening—sell your house, sell your cars, move to a country where you don’t even speak the language—and you can have a wonderful time and the children will not die of heart attacks because they‘re not in soccer every day . . . There are times when you don’t want to get caught up in some riveting plot that keeps you up until 1:30. With this book, you can put it down, you can pick it back up, and it will give you, hopefully, the flavor of Paris and, hopefully, a sense that you can live a lot if you retain those small moments, whether you live in Boulder, Colorado, or Paris.

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