Prague

My brilliant and wonderful publicist Sarah Brievogel asked me a series of questions about the trip to Prague that inspired DIE FOR YOU.  She used this for the press kit when review copies went out.  A few weeks ago, Oline Cogdill wrote a little bit about my trip to Prague after I had a chance to chat with her about it before a panel we were on together back in April.  But I thought you might enjoy seeing this interview, which offers a broader picture of the experience.  Enjoy!

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While your novels are all different with a variety of protagonists, one of the central themes that runs throughout is the importance of place. Beautiful Lies and Sliver of Truth both took place in New York. Black Out focused on the seedier side of Florida. Your new novel, Die For You, takes place in New York and Prague.  Can you tell us more about how you choose the location for your novels?

LU:¬†Like so much about my process, it’s more as though the place chooses me.¬†¬†I lived in New York City for 13 years before leaving for Florida.¬†¬†It was only after I’d been gone for a couple of years that I fell in love with it again.¬†¬†When I started writing BEAUTIFUL LIES, Manhattan was just very naturally Ridley’s home. And that book turned into a sort of love letter to my time there, to all the places I knew well, to all my memories – good and bad -of living there.

When I wrote BLACK OUT, Florida had fully seduced me.¬†¬†After years of exploring the state — from clubbing in Miami, to kayaking in the mangroves, from diving in the Keys to trekking though the Everglades — I started to perceive this dark and wild heart that people rarely mention when they write about Florida.¬†¬†People seem to find the state kind of funny, the crime that goes on here is treated with a very light hand in most fiction novels.¬†¬†People see Florida as a kind of kitschy, vacation-y place – and of course it is that in some ways.¬†¬†But it has a feral center, a dark underbelly that really inspires and fascinates me.

DIE FOR YOU¬†was inspired by the place I was in – that was a big difference for me.¬†¬†¬†I spent time in Prague, planning to vacation with my family, be a tourist, and recuperate from writing¬†BLACK OUT, which was such an intense writing experience for me.¬†¬†But the city just blew my mind with its surreal beauty and fascinating history.¬†¬†I just couldn’t stop myself from writing.

You spent five weeks in Prague while writing this novel. How did the change in locale affect your writing/creative process?

LU:¬†In the summer of 2007, my family and I conducted a home exchange with a Czech family.¬†¬†We stayed in a lovely apartment near Mal√° Strana, just a short walk from the Charles Bridge and Old Town Square.¬†¬†We had never done a home exchange before and I had never spent so much time in another country, so it was a totally new experience — and not a completely comfortable one, at first.

We didn’t speak the language – at all.¬†¬†And in spite of our efforts to learn, we really never did.¬†Czech is a West Slavic tongue and I found it almost completely inaccessible.¬†¬†But living there for five weeks – with a toddler – meant that we had to grocery shop and do our laundry and all the non-tourist type things one must do when living somewhere.¬†¬†We had to learn to get around.

We arrived in Prague with a ton of laundry, since we’d been to London and New York prior to arriving in the Czech Republic.¬†¬†I immediately assessed that the small washer and drier in the apartment were definitely not going to meet our needs.¬†¬†So I did what any child of the millennium would do. I Googled.¬†¬†I found the website for a laundry service, all text written in perfect English, to my excitement.¬†¬†So I called to arrange for service, but the people who answered spoke only a little English.¬†¬†In my hideous Czech, I tried to make myself understood.¬†¬†The man on the other end knew only one English sentence: “Text your address!”¬†¬†And he gave me a number, which I mercifully understood.¬†¬†So I texted him my address, and an hour later a gentleman showed up in a white unmarked van and left with all of our clothes.¬†¬†I watched him go, wondering if I’d ever see him again.¬†¬†But he returned the next day, with everything washed and neatly folded.¬†¬†Success!

So we found our comfort zone and a routine pretty quickly.  We were always up early, so we often found ourselves wandering very quiet streets at sunrise, looking for an open cafe.  We would all eat together, and then my husband and daughter took off for a bit, while I sat to write.  It was effortless writing there. I was just soaking up all this energy from the unspeakable beauty all around me. The pages just flowed. I was away from the normal responsibilities of home, in some ways, so my days were just about my family, my writing and exploring a truly inspiring place.

If you had one day in Prague how would you spend it?

LU:¬†Oh, I’m Prague-sick just thinking about it.¬†¬†I would rise early and walk the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most) as the sun rises.¬†¬†It’s the only time of day that the bridge, which connects the Little Quarter to Old Town, won’t be completely packed with tourists and vendors. I could literally feel the energy of centuries through the soles of my feet.

After the bridge, I would have breakfast at Bohemia Bagel (in Mal√° Strana at L√°zeŇąsk√° 19) just steps from the Charles Bridge. We stumbled upon this place because it was the only open restaurant at 7:30 AM, but wound up going back almost every day for the friendly service and yummy scrambled eggs.¬†¬†It was a little bit of home in a very foreign place.

After that I’d head to Old Town and wind through the random network of streets, viewing the historic buildings, visiting quaint shops.¬†¬†Is it time for lunch yet?¬†¬†Noon is a great time to stop in Old Town Square and have a bite at one of the many outdoor cafes or watch the Astronomical Clock in the Town Hall mark the hour with its march of apostles and other moving figures.

Of course, I’d have to visit Prague Castle, which is a city in and of itself, commanding every view in the city from high above the Vltava River.¬†¬†My favorite sights within its high walls are the stunning St. Vitus’s Cathedral, a gothic wonder, and the picturesque Golden Lane lined with artisans’ cottages.

For dinner, The Allegro restaurant at the Four Seasons is one of the best in Prague. It’s a beautiful place with a wonderfully romantic atmosphere and magnificent views.

Or for a traditional Czech meal – which basically consists of a giant platter of roast meat and vegetables or goulash with dumplings, and a Pilsner Urquell (traditional Czech beer) bigger than your head – I’d visit Pivnice U Glaubicu.¬†¬†This fun and casual restaurant, located at Malostransk√© n√°mest√≠ 5/266 is built into a 700-year-old wine cellar. It can’t be beat for atmosphere and hearty food.

We had the best mojitos we’ve ever had at La Bodeguita del Medio (in the Jewish Quarter at Kaprova 5).¬†¬†This eclectic, funky place serves a blend of creole and Cuban food, great steaks, classic cocktails and, of course, Cuban cigars into the wee hours.¬†¬†It was allegedly an Ernest Hemingway haunt.

I could go on for pages but suffice it to say, I’d go back in heartbeat, stay for another five weeks and never be bored!

Black Out was set in Florida, but not the sunny/touristy side of Florida most of us know and love.  It was a darker, more dangerous part of the state. Did you find Prague had a similar darkness to it?

LU:¬†Oh, Prague has a magnificent dark side. First of all, it’s ancient.¬†¬†All those fairy tale rues and the towering Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge with all its moaning saints – the perfect fodder for a dark imagination.

But like Florida, the city was packed with tourists from all over the world.¬†¬†They wondered over those old cobblestones, eating ice cream cones and buying “Praha” teeshirts.¬†¬†It all seemed so sunny and peaceful, but just around the corner from the main drags there are tiny dark streets, and narrow staircases leading below the city, secret courtyards.

I felt like Prague was a city of secrets, so lovely to look at, but having borne witness to so much history.  What was she hiding? I wondered.  What stories could she tell? It was this fascination that inspired DIE FOR YOU.

Any destinations you haven’t been that you’re thinking of visiting for inspiration?

LU: Last summer we spent five weeks in Paris and it definitely ignited my imagination Рhow could it not?  I just kept thinking about Ridley and all the trouble she could get herself into there!

This year we’ll spend three weeks in Australia when I visit for the Brisbane & Melbourne Writers Festivals. I can only imagine what experiences I’ll have Down Under and how I will be inspired.¬†The places I have been and the things I have seen in my travels are truly extraordinary, have most certainly informed my fiction in all sorts of ways.¬†¬†But it’s really the wide open experiencing of life that offers the most inspiration, no matter where you find yourself.

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I¬†hope you’ll check out the new page on my website that features¬†other writings, including essays both published and unpublished. ¬†In the months ahead, I’ll be posting a short story that will appear in FLORIDA HEAT, an upcoming anthology edited by Michael Lister and published by Bleak House. ¬†So, stay tuned!

What I’m reading:
The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

What I’m listening to:
Regina Spektor/ Far

Ocean’s Favorite Book:
Moon Rabbit by Natalie Russell