GETTIN’ LUCKY: A Proust Questionnaire with Elizabeth Ross, author of BELLE EPOQUE

For my interview with Elizabeth Ross, we decided to do something a little bit different.

Since her debut novel, the smart, glamorous, and oh-so romantic Belle Epoque, is set around the same time that French novelist Marcel Proust would have been a teenager in Paris, we decided to take a page from his famous questionnaire.

proustIn addition to the having the sauciest author photos this side of Truman Capote and writing In Search of Lost Time, one of the great novels of the 20th century, Proust also gave name to the 19th century tradition of the confession album. The confession album was a place to ask your friends to record their thoughts, feelings, likes, and peeves. Proust loved answering these for good reason. They’re super fun, and (WRITING TIP ALERT!) they can also be an excellent exercise for developing those hard-to-know characters.

But before we get to Elizabeth’s answers, a little more about her splendid book.

belleEpoque_lgBelle Epoque is set in 1888 Paris and the controversial Eiffel Tower is under construction, rising against the skyline to the horror of Parisians who consider it a monstrosity. But even so, this is still France’s golden age – Le Belle Epoque translates to “the Beautiful Era” – and Paris is a city awash in art, music, fashion, science, literature, knowledge, and beauty.

It’s an intoxicating world to get caught up in, but it’s not all sidewalk cafes and dreamy musicians. Far from it.

For Maude Pichon, the reality of Paris is something else entirely. She has just fled the countryside to avoid an unwanted arranged marriage and seek her fortune in the city. But earning a living proves harder than Maude anticipated, and desperate for work, she answers a curious ad: “Young women wanted for undemanding work. Propriety guaranteed.”

The ad brings her to the Durandeau Agency, a curious place that offers a highly specialized service to its clients. In the cutthroat world of Paris debutantes, everyone is looking for an edge when it comes to ensuring a successful debut season and a good marriage match. The Durandeau Agency manages an ensemble of plain, unattractive, or downright ugly women who serve as beauty “foils.” Hire a beauty foil, and become more attractive instantly.

Maude’s work for the agency leads her into the most exclusive and elite circles of Parisian society, and places her as the “friend” of Isabelle Dubern, the daughter of a countess. Isabelle’s beauty shines brighter next to Maude’s plainness, but the better Maude gets to know the noble girl, the more the implications of her deception begin to trouble her.

There’s romance, friendship, self-discovery, and deception, not to mention some truly gorgeous dresses and mouthwatering dinner parties.

And without further ado, here are Elizabeth Ross’s answers to the famous Proust Questionnaire:

elizabeth rossWhat is your favorite virtue? Integrity.

What are your favorite qualities in a man? Patience and kindness.

What are your favorite qualities in a woman? Humor and passion.

What is your chief characteristic? Sense of justice.

What is your main fault? Impatience.

What do you appreciate most in your friends? Loyalty.

What is your idea of happiness? A dog curled up under my desk as I write.

What is your idea of misery? Reality show fame.

If not yourself, who would you be? Someone else.

Where would you like to live? On a small acreage with horses.

Who are your favorite prose authors? An author whose book makes me feel bereft that the experience is over.

Who are your favorite poets? Every Scot is a poet.

Who are your favorite painters and composers? Illustrators of children’s books. Film composers have transported me to other worlds.

Who are your favorite heroes in real life? My friends inspire and influence me, as do strangers who strive to create something.

Who are your favorite heroes in fiction? Unconventional heroes and heroines, characters who surprise me.

What natural talent would you most like to be gifted with? Music.

How do you wish to die? Without regret and after living a full life.

What is your present state of mind? Hopeful.

For what fault have you most toleration? I can forgive my dog most anything.

What is your favorite motto? Spem Successus Alit (Success Nourishes Hope). It’s the Clan Ross motto.

Thanks for stopping by, Elizabeth, and congratulations on your debut! To the rest of you, I say, go read this gorgeous book immediately.

About the Author:

Elizabeth Ross grew up in Scotland where she studied French and Film Studies at the University of Glasgow. After graduation she worked in the film industry in Montreal for several years, becoming a film editor. That career path eventually led to Los Angeles where she now lives with her husband.

Her debut novel, BELLE EPOQUE, will be published in June, 2013 from Delacorte Press/Random House. She is currently at work on a new novel set in 1940’s Los Angeles.

Mary McCoy is a librarian at the Los Angeles Public Library. Her debut novel, DEAD TO ME (Disney-Hyperion, Fall 2014), is a YA mystery set in the glamorous, treacherous world of Golden Age Hollywood. She likes new dresses and old cookbooks.

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