Author Q&A: Rebecca Bischoff- The French Impressionist
Rosemary is fifteen and gloriously free, on her own for the very first time. Part of an exchange program for aspiring artists, she arrives in southern France with one goal: she doesnt plan to leave, ever. She wants a new life and a new identity. But her situation, crafted from lies big and small, is precarious. As Rosemary struggles to hide her lack of artistic talent and obvious communication disorder from her new family, she must ultimately choose whether or not shell tell the biggest lie of all, even if it means destroying the life of someone she cares about.
"A deeply unsettling portrait of love, psychological abuse, and the hell of good intentions." -Kirkus Review
To celebrate the upcoming release of Rebecca Bishoff's debut novel, The French Impressionist, we've asked her to tell us about her inspiration and research behind the book, and what she hopes readers will take away from Rosemary's story.
AJ: How did your job as a speech therapist motivate you to write The French Impressionist?
RB: Ive spent a lot of time around people who cant communicate in the easy manner most of us take for granted. I know many individuals who must use a computerized device or an alternate method, such as pictures or sign language to talk to others, and Ive seen how that influences the way others perceive them. I remember one young woman with a speech disorder telling me about her first day of high school. She asked a student for directions to her home room. That student took her directly to the special education classroom, having made the assumption that this was where she was supposed to be. Another student, who used a wheelchair and a computerized device to communicate, shared how often people stared at her. Daily. I couldnt help wondering how I would feel if I were in a similar situation. Would I wish that others would see me instead of my speech disorder or my wheelchair? Would I wish to have others see me as normal?
AJ: Why did you choose Nice, France as the setting?
RB: Part of my novel was inspired by a true story about a long-forgotten apartment in Paris, filled with beautiful furniture and artwork. However, Ive been in love with the Mediterranean coast for many years, having spent a few months living in Genova, Italy. The endless skies and sense of freedom have remained with me since that time. When writing my novel, I decided that it needed to take place in southern France along the coast, not in Paris. Nice has a wonderful history of artists who have lived in the area, as well as that amazing sense of space that can only be felt in a city by the ocean. I wanted Rosemary to fall in love with the palm trees, the sand, and open azure skies, as they represent a freedom shed never had before.
AJ: Tell us more about this apartment in Paris.
RB: I came across an article about an apartment in Paris that had been left uninhabited for more than 75 years. Once entered, it was found to contain several paintings, including one of a beautiful woman wearing a pink dress. This painting was attributed to the Italian artist, Giovanni Boldini, and was later sold at auction for about three million dollars. The woman in the painting was his lover, a Madame de Florian, who had left her Parisian apartment at the outbreak of World War II and never returned. I was fascinated by the thought of discovering something like that, and the story evolved from there. The idea of finding an apartment left abandoned long ago but still filled with furniture and the mementos of a life left behind was fascinating to me. I used some of the actual photos from the article as a basis for some of the descriptions of the apartment Rosemary enters. Also, the woman who owned the real apartment in Paris, Madame de Florian, did actually possess a collection of letters from various lovers, which shed kept tied with colored ribbons. I included this detail, although I created the character of Marguerite, the woman whose belongings and forgotten letters intrigue Rosemary.
AJ: Rosemary makes a lot of questionable and naïve decisions throughout the book. What was the most emotional moment for you to write about?
RB: The moment when Rosemary must decide between telling the truth or allowing Zander, her mothers boyfriend, to be accused of a horrible crime stands out in my mind. Rosemary is so desperate for a new life that she makes many choices that are illogical and potentially hurtful to others. Yet when faced with the knowledge that she could ruin someone elses life, she tells the truth and faces the consequences, fully knowing that she had everything she wanted within her reach and is now allowing it to slip away.
AJ: What is your favorite quality about Rosemary?
RB: Shes incredibly inventive in the way she constructs a different persona for herself, hoping to hide what she doesnt want others to see. Though her methods were questionable, Rosemary was resourceful and creative in how she crafted an alternate identity. I also admire her tenacity! She never gives up.
AJ: One of our favorite things about your book is that your protagonist is someone who struggles to be heard and known. Rosemary has her own individual struggles, but her angst and frustrations are relatable to many readers. What do you hope readers will take away most from Rosemarys story?
RB: I hope that readers will share in Rosemarys newfound strength as she learns how to believe in herself and to show her true self. I think most of us, like Rosemary, have real or perceived weaknesses, whether physical, emotional, or psychological, that we wish we didnt have. Rosemary had to accept her speech disorder in order to truly unmask herself before everyone else. I think thats the hardest thing for many of us to do. We all wear invisible masks at various times and for a variety of reasons. Its very freeing to take the mask off and reveal our true natures.