Lisa Pasold on writing, hot chocolate, and adventures in trains

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Originally from Montreal, Lisa Pasold divides her time between Paris and Toronto. I have admired her poetry for a long time now and it was a treat to meet her and to talk writing over coffee at Cafe Nemours, where I learned that she, too, had been thrown off a train in Belarus.

Lisa’s first book of poetry, Weave, appeared in 2004. Stephen Osborne in Geist magazine called the book “quite simply a masterpiece: there is more in these eighty odd pages than in most novels.” Her second book, A Bad Year for Journalists, published in 2006, was nominated for an Alberta Book Award. The Globe and Mail called this new collection “critical, darkly funny and painstakingly lyrical.” Her third book, Rats of Las Vegas, a novel, has recently come out. In addition to writing, Lisa leads walks all over Paris, investigating the lives of artists & writers throughout the centuries in the City of Light. She has also written for guidebooks such as Fodor’s, Time Out, and Michelin.

Lisa, what brought you to Paris?
When I was twenty, I decided to move to Europe, and I chose Paris because I spoke French and knew no one here, so I was free to fail or succeed with no witnesses. I dragged my ridiculously-heavy suitcase up seven flights of stairs to a classic chambre-de-bonne, and fell in love with the city.

What keeps you in Paris?
I love the streetlife of this city–I can spend all day walking and all night in a café, people-watching! Paris is a particular wonderful city for writers, because we’re an acknowledged group here, whereas we’re kind of invisible in many other places. The city is gorgeously cosmopolitan, but Paris is a relatively small city with a calmer pace of life than New York or London. I feel that people have a chance to get to know one another here.

What books are on your nightstand?
Right now, two books of poetry by American writers in Paris–Jeffrey Greene’s Beautiful Monsters, and Margo Berdeshevsky’s But a Passage in Wilderness. I’m reading parts of Anthony Grafton’s book of essays Worlds Made By Words and I’m working slowly through War and Peace. It’s much more of a page-turner than I expected, but it’s so well-written I don’t want to rush. And for something completely different, I have Furious Love, about Liz Taylor & Richard Burton.

What advice would you give to struggling writers?
Write every day. Take ten minutes if that’s all you have, but take some time every day to write. And read. Voraciously.

What is the best advice you have ever received?
I love advice in the form of quotations from other writers. My favourite is “Be happy. It’s one way of being wise.” — which is advice from the wonderful Colette. I also have a lot of editors to thank for good advice. For my last book, the novel Rats of Las Vegas, I was lucky to have editorial advice from fiction-writer Lauren B. Davis, who questioned every single comma in the darn manuscript. She drove me crazy, but she was entirely right.

How does living in a foreign country affect your writing?
I think it makes me more aware of language and the way people express themselves and the patterns we make with words, depending on where we’re from. Being a wanderer and sometime travel journalist, I feel a bit at home and a bit foreign everywhere, which makes me notice the details of life. I think that’s good for my writing. What does it add to your writing?  I don’t know what exactly I’d be writing if I weren’t such a wanderer. Probably something very different! I’m sure I would be writing something, though.

What is your favorite Parisian café?
I love so many cafés, depending on whether I’m going out to write or read or meet friends. My first choice at this time of year is Le Picolo, in the heart of the Clignancourt/Saint-Ouen flea market. But in cold weather, nothing beats the hot chocolate at the Café Wepler on Place Clichy.

What’s next?
I’m working on a new novel Up to the Knee, set in the 18th arrondissement where I live. And I’m putting the finishing touches on a poetry manuscript–a sort of contemporary Marco Polo story–called any bright horse, coming out in Canada in Spring 2012.

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  1. Barb

    Good interview. I am intrigued by Ms.Pasolds newest book

  2. @3samovar

    i hope she will speak at the library soon plus i would like to know more about this train ride in belorussia…

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