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Rate Your Story logo by Dana Atnip   © 2012-present

Word By Word

May 6, 2019

 

Like many people who write I was first an insatiable reader. This hunger for stories led me to study French literature in college. Right after graduation I landed a job in a publishing company. Working in a word-friendly environment in the heart of Paris was living a dream.

An unexpected turn of event would show me that the power of words remains extraordinary in any country and language.

 

Long story short: I moved almost overnight from my native France to California to follow my husband for his career.

 

So here I was in the heart of the Silicon Valley, equally thrilled and anxious to start a life from scratch. I forgot to mention that we had an eleven-month-old baby and that I was expecting a second one. Also, I studied German and not English in college.

 

But American people were so kind and encouraging. I quickly found out that “Good job!” goes a long way, as does “I love your accent!” These small nice words gave me wings and the audacity to jump in the big pool. Not without mistakes.

 

Languages are more than different words. They translate a culture through idioms and expressions. I learned to have the goose bumps and not the hen’s bumps or still to ask for an appointment and not a rendezvous. With funny mix-ups came also moments of isolation.

 

Less than a year after our move I attended a book signing. 6000 miles away from my homeland, held in a foreign language, I still believed that the event would be a no-brainer since I had attended many in France. Also I had loved the story and wanted to congratulate the author, even though I had read the novel with my dictionary at my side.

In fact, I stepped away from the bookstore as soon as the author put her book down. I had only caught a word here and there and even wondered if the excerpt she read came from the same novel.

 

Outside, stars lit the vast California sky, but sadness and embarrassment filled me. I prayed for an immediate return to Paris where everyone understood me and I understood everyone too. It is strange that this particular moment of discouragement triggered a crucial change of heart and mind.

 

The natural beauty above my head soothed me before empowering me. My decision was made on the spot: I would not only read and understand English I would also write in English, at least as well as a native speaker.

 

Even though I took my decision under the stars, the following years didn’t resemble a fairy tale. But as I borrowed piles of books at the library, wrote down every unknown word in my notebook to search for its translation later on, I improved much more than my linguistic skills. I fell headfirst for the American literature that I had only read translated in French.

 

Soon with my kids in tow, I discovered the rich diversity of children’s books. Some words sounded so beautiful through my oldest daughter’s voice when she started to read in unaccented English. The sounds didn’t have yet the familiarly of the French language, yet their foreignness tugged at me. The R rolled and the TH hissed, while the U had nothing in common with the peculiar French U.

 

More than ever I wanted to be fluent. I considered taking English classes but was told that I needed practice more than lessons. A professional relocation took then my young family to the East Coast and this is where, searching for a more creative way to improve my English, I registered as a student at the Institute of Children’s Literature. I looked forward to my instructor’s monthly feedback on my short stories. She encouraged me to write and read.

 

I made so many trips to the library that it became a second home. While I read books and magazines to my youngest kids, always translating from English to French so they would not catch my French accent (BTW they never did :) ), I not only improved my English knowledge but also the craft of writing.

 

This is how one day I decided to submit my own short stories. My rejection folder was thick by the time Spider Magazine said yes to one of them. To this day this very first acceptance and publication remain etched on my mind and heart. Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step. I’d say that for someone who writes in a second language every word is a step.

 

Fueled by this small success I wrote more and explored different genres. A mix of short stories, for kids and adults too, Picture Book manuscripts and even a novel soon filled my computer. I submitted. Rejections came. They hurt, yet never stopped me from submitting and even less from writing.

 

Like a child who learns how to walk I kept tripping and falling but always stood up, supported by critique partners, motivated by writing conferences, and always inspired by my favorite authors.

 

With new publishing tools on the market I decided to go Indie and in 2012 and 2014 I published two novels.  In a bold move I sent a copy of my historical Middle Grade book to Publishers Weekly. Their favorable review allowed me to visit schools and to attend book festivals. I wrote more than ever, mostly for children but also from my blog about my life spent between two languages. I also submitted regularly.

 

By the end of 2018 I had received plenty of rejections, most very positive, I had almost signed with an agent and twice with an editor.

 

Being so close and yet so far away…

Encouraged by a dear friend who submitted one of her manuscripts 100 times until signing with a publishing company I gave myself the month of January 2019 to query every publisher or agent looking for any of my manuscripts. I had approached about twenty when I received an unforgettable email.

 

An agent from The Bent Agency wanted to talk with me about my manuscript that she described as “brilliant.”

 

My adoptive and native language lived now in peace, no longer competing for my attention, and yet I couldn’t find words to describe what this email meant to me.

Word by word I had acquired an entire new vocabulary. Each had mattered.

Still speechless, I exhaled and finally allowed myself to have the hen’s bumps.

 

 

Born and raised in a small town in Normandy, France, Evelyne spent her childhood buried in books when she wasn’t playing outside.

 

Her first published piece was a poem about a man spending Christmas behind bars. She was eleven years old and wasn’t paid for her work.  It didn’t stop her from doing it again!

 

Evelyne's life as she knew it ended in 1990 when her husband decided to start a new career in the USA.  She had only been recently married and had a small baby.  It was a hard time in her life as she was leaving her own career, family, friends and  beloved Paris behind.  But how could she say no to the dreams of the man she loves?

 

Because of her husband’s career, Evelyne's  family has moved from the West Coast to the East Coast twice.  She has lived in several parts of California and Massachusetts but Maine is her home since the day she gave a new life to a small red front lake cabin.

 

 

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