Eloisa James, the pen name of novelist and Fordham University professor Mary Bly, takes readers to the City of Light in Paris in Love: A Memoir.
You are a romance writer under your nom de plume, Eloisa James, but a Shakespeare professor at Fordham University as Mary Bly, your given name. This new nonfiction work about your sabbatical year in Paris with your family is published under Eloisa James. What are the two different personas, and why publish this one under your romance name?
I suppose the easier answer would be that Eloisa is a good deal nicer. As to whose name appeared on the cover—that was a tossup. The essays are very Mary-ish; the smaller parts—many of which began as updates on Eloisa’s Facebook page—are Eloisa-ish. It seemed easier for my Eloisa fans to find me under that name. It was a challenge, shaping those updates during the year, really catching what the snow was like falling in Paris that day
Memories of your father [poet Robert Bly]appear throughout the book: about his losing his memory and no longer writing poems. Was going to Paris a way of feeling closer to him?
Yup. I am watching him forget. He still remembers what he loves—us, poetry, love—but he can’t remember what happened to him before. When I went to Paris, I wasn’t going to have a wonderful year that I forget. Part of the reason for writing updates was to remember. Death lies ahead, and loss of memory lies ahead, so no matter what happens I leave my children this year. It was wrenching to see what happened to my father, and a hell of a lot of work to find a way to put into words what was happening. When I was growing up, my life and his were put in his poetry, whereas my life now is not put into my work, my romances.
You write that living in Paris taught you how to savor—how to waste. How so?
The French waste time all the time. They meet friends on the street and talk and occupy the middle of the sidewalk and never move. They go to lunch, and you visibly see them wasting time—what we call wasting time—people stand at the high cafe tables, savoring their cigarette and combustible coffee; they are there for 40 minutes and they are not desperately running off to work or having to feed their family. My parents were extremely driven; I would hate not to be a hard worker, and all my success has come from hard work. But it was good to emulate a different way.
You write: “Paris is the most beautiful city and the most heartbreaking.” How so?
One of the things I had to learn was that you can lust after objects, but don’t have to own them. Living in such a beautiful place surrounded by beautiful things was a big lesson. I grew up with not a lot of money, and I always used to replace things with other things. I don’t do that anymore. In Paris it’s possible to admire and not acquire.