welcomes as our guest, Michèle Halberstadt. Michèle is a journalist, author, and producer of several films including Monsieur Ibrahim, Farewell My Concubine, and Murderous Maids, which she also co-wrote, and This Must Be The Place.

Her novels include La Petite and The Pianist in the Dark, which won the Drouot Literary Prize and was short-listed for the Lilas literary prize in France and her most recent novel MON AMIE AMÉRICAINE.

Norm: Bonjour Michèle et je voudrais vous remercier infiniment de m'accorder cette interview (thanks for participating in our interview).

Why and when did you first become interested in films and what was the first one your produced? As a follow up, how was it received?

Michèle:The first film we produced was called Les Blessures Assassines. I also co wrote the script. It was very well received, and got US distribution under the title Murderous Maids.

Norm: Your are also a journalist and novelist? How did you get started in writing? What keeps you going?

Michèle:I always did write. Notes, bits and stuff. Not a diary per say, more comments on daily feelings.

My first novel was published in 1991. I wrote it during a Sabbatical I took. But afterwards I had my job and 2 kids to raise. No time to write. I started writing again the first summer when they were big enough to go away without me!

That’s when I wrote my second book Café Viennois.” It was published in 2005, 14 years after the first one.

What keeps me going? Writing is soothing, I feel. It allows me to confront my deepest fears.

Norm: What do you want your work as a novelist and producer of films to do? Amuse people? Provoke thinking?

Michèle: I don’t want anything. I write, or produce, what I’m interested in, what moves me, excites me, challenges me, and then I hope other people will feel the same.

You can’t rely on anything else but your own deep feelings. Be true to yourself. That’s all you can do, because that’s all you’ve got. That’s who you are. Then hope for the best…You hope people will feel like you, but you can’t do something because you think people will like it. That’s not how it works. Or anyway, that’s not how I function.

Norm: In your opinion, what is the most difficult part of the writing process when it comes to crafting your novels?

Michèle: First, finding the idea that will sustain you. I need a very strong reason to write a book. It’s so painful! I’m so not gifted!

It takes me forever to write a line I’m ok with. So writing is the difficult part. Writing that first draft. It’s painful, frustrating, unnerving, it makes you sad, elated, afraid. I just don’t want to be bored. When I’m bored writing, then I give up.

Norm: What do you think most characterizes your writing and are you a plot or character writer? 

Michèle: I’m definitely a character writer. My style is very concise. I write one line, then I take away the words, and I try to go to the bone of it.

To really only put the words I need, the ones that are meaningful. People often tell me “Your books are short, it’s great, it’s easy to read.”

And I love them saying that, because ideally I would like them to read it in one go. But inside of me I smile and think “Easy to read…but so hard to write!” That simplicity in the surface requires a lot of work.

Norm: What did you find most useful in learning to write? What was least useful or most destructive? 

Michèle: The only advice I can give to an aspiring writer is: go and read!

I’m a reader. I read a lot since I was very young, and I read fast.

Reading has taught me that you can do anything you want when you write. Deconstruct time, or not. Use a voice over, or not. Put yourself in the shoes of your character. Or not. Anything goes! These are the wonders of writing.

The choices are infinite. And that’s what makes it so difficult.

Destructive is the habit I had of re-reading everyday what I had written before. That’s very dangerous, because you lose the thread.

You cannot do a draft two when you are still trying to write draft one. So now I force myself not to re- read more than the last page that appears on my computer.

If not, you never move on, and that’s the worst thing that can happen.

If not, the basic but essential lesson: write everyday.

Norm: How has your environment/upbringing colored your writing? 

Michèle: I’m sure it has, but I don’t know how. Who I am, where I live, the people I meet, the job I’m doing, all this has affected who I am, and how I write.

What has definitely affected my writing was my first job, writing for a radio show. When you write for the radio, you have to be very expressionistic.

People can’t re-read what will be said. So you write in colors, you try to give a very concrete sense of the times and the places. You have to be evocative. And concise. This has definitely affected the way I write.

Norm: Could you tell us a little about your most recent novel, MON AMIE AMÉRICAINE and how did you become involved with the theme of the book?

Michèle: I have a very close friend working in the industry who turned sick. She inspired me. But I changed the dates, told the story 20 years later than when it happened, to force me to turn my memories into fiction. I always say a writer invents with souvenirs. In this case, I did just that.

Norm: What purpose do you believe your story serves and what matters to you about the story? As a follow up, how much of the book is realistic?

Michèle: I just wanted to talk about friendship. Show how close it is to love. There is no sexuality involved, but for the rest it’s pretty much like love.

I also wanted to tell a realistic story, not the usual with the force of will, she overcame her situation.

In real life, you don’t always overcome things. You are just weak, afraid, human. She is not a superwoman, nor is her French friend.

I wanted to tell a realistic tale, but to fill it with love, friendship, and what it means to grow old, have kids, raise them, have a husband, and a career. How it is to be a working woman today. Yes, it is definitely a realistic book.

Norm: Did you know the end of your book at the beginning and what is the most favorite part of your book? 

No, I did not know how to actually end it, and I told this to my husband.

He just looked at me and said: “Well, what made you write it?” I looked at him, and knew he was right. That’s how I found the ending.

My favorite part is I guess the page where I explain why I love this friend.

Norm: What was the most difficult part of writing your book? 

Michèle: The first part was tough. I’m writing to my friend, for my friend, yet I have to give the readers info's about the kind of girl she is.

Get the reader to know her only through this diary the French girl writes to her. That was really tough.

Norm: Where can our readers find out more about you and your work?

Michèle: Nowhere really. I’m quite private, although I’m on Twitter  (barely ever on Facebook). My books are very telling about who I am, I think.

Norm: What is next for Michèle Halberstadt?

Michèle: Maybe a collection of portraits. I met a lot of people when I was a journalist. My specialty was interviews. I’m contemplating writing portraits of those encounters I had a chance to have with a few amazing characters.

Norm: As this interview comes to an end, what would you like to say to writers who are reading this interview and wondering if they can keep creating, if they are good enough, if their voices and visions matter enough to share? 

Michèle: Keep wondering! That’s what makes us writers. Like any art, it’s about raising questions. It’s about doubt, fears, wonders, loss, pain, love.

It’s about how do we find a place on this earth for us, and those around us, how do we fit or don’t fit. Writing is questioning why we’re here, really.

 Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your future endeavors.