Paris, a blacksmith, and A Necessary Madness
Updated: Mar 3
Paris has gained its reputation for being one of the most majestic cities in the world for a reason. The lights reflecting off the Seine at night, famous works of art, rich history, delicious food in quaint cafés, and proud gardens all combine to create a romantic package that makes this city one of the most traveled destinations on earth.
I had the lucky fortune of visiting Paris when I was 25 with my mom and little sister whom I affectionately refer to as “kid.” We traveled with a few of my mom’s friends as part of a guided tour group. Much of our time in the city of lights was scheduled to the minute, leaving us little windows of freedom to double-down on crêpes and pain au chocolat.
We hit all of the touristy highlights a person could in only a week. The Louvre, the Champs-Élysées, Notre Dame, Napoleon’s Tomb, Musée d'Orsay, Rodin, and other shrines of art, history, and culture. Using the Saint-Michel district in the Latin Quarter as our hub, I found myself constantly daydreaming, imagining myself as a character in the play Les Misérables.
I loved Paris, but of all of my time in France, my favorite day was spent in a lesser-known fortress about two hours south of the city by train.
The countryside was a balm to this nature-lover’s soul, and the slow and steady incline up toward the fortress through a little hamlet (can’t remember the name!) was idyllic and again had this historian’s imagination spinning.
We passed tradesmen and women of all types, including a young blacksmith working in a forge. I imagined what it would have been like to live in such a fortress in the 1600s and how that life might differ from the grand city of Paris.
This was the birthplace of my latest (and all-time favorite) writing project, A Necessary Madness which releases on March 22, 2022.
I used this fortress, with its medieval architecture, as a staging ground for a story. I imagined a girl prone to mischief and placed her in that small village. I asked myself, “If I had been that girl, how would I have found trouble enough for a parent to send me away to a big city like Paris?”
And I knew the story forming in my head was a love story, because how could I write a book inspired by the most romantic place in the world and not have it be a love story?
Up until that point, I’d never considered writing a novel. I was a historian, for heaven's sake! If I planned to write anything, it would be scholarly journals.
But the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. Even after we traveled back to Paris, I couldn’t stop thinking about a mischievous girl and the handsome blacksmith apprentice who tugged her braids when they were children?
The night before we were scheduled to fly home, we visited Sacré-Coeur (the most visited church in Paris and second highest point in the city). On our way back to the Saint-Michel district, my mother, the kid, and I took a wrong metro stop and ended up having to walk a few blocks to get to a different metro line. This part of the city was not so magical. The streets weren’t well lit and the shadows seemed to grow with every step.
When watching scary movies, we know something is about to happen because the musical score grows more intense. As our little trio approached a group of men walking toward us, sharing the same sidewalk, I had a similar unease building in my gut.
We tried to walk around them and they stretched out their arms, attempting to shepherd us into an ally. It’s hard to describe how time slowed in that moment. Fear left my body, replaced by an instinct that we were in danger and that in our little pack of three, I was responsible for my mom and 14-year-old sister’s safety.
When faced with extreme danger we are all programmed with a flight or fight response. It’s impossible to know what our response will be until we’re confronted with that danger.
I barely remembered thinking before shoving my mom and sister into the street with one arm and swinging out my other arm in a wild arc, knocking away the men's hands so we could pass by them. I yelled “No!” like an animal possessed—definitely not the feminine scream of a frightened woman, but the guttural growl of a bear high on pure adrenaline. I honestly think I scared everyone, my mom, my sister, and even myself included. The men instantly backed off and we walked on in silence at a clipped pace until we reached our requisite metro station.
The movie Taken starring Liam Neeson came out only a year or two later and the experience further shaped this imaginary world I’d been building where a beautiful city filled with so much wonder could also be dangerous.
Paris is still one of the most impressive cities I’ve ever visited. I long to go back someday with my husband once the world settles down and the pandemic doesn’t have such an intense grip on our lives. In the meantime, I must content myself with a different romance, a story of my own creation about a place both beautiful and threatening and a girl and her blacksmith who both needed to be brave enough to leave their home to save it.
Take the romantic journey that opened up the world of writing to me back in that fortress in southern France and sample the first three chapters of A Necessary Madness.
If you pre-order A Necessary Madness by March 21st, you can receive a signed bookplate and other free gifts from my publisher by submitting a screenshot of your receipt using this form below.
Join me for the book's launch party in-person on Wednesday, March 23rd at the Provo City Library in Utah. If you’ve attended one of my events in the past, you know you’re in for more than just a book reading! ;)