Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sara Voorhees, The Lumiere Affair

I would love to take a trip to the Cannes Film Festival. What could be more fun than viewing lots of movies and seeing gorgeous celebrities? Plus the sun-drenched beaches, fine wines and all the history and culture makes it a vacation I would take in a heartbeat.

In Sara Voorhees novel, The Lumiere Affair, we get to see Cannes up close and personal. Sara knows all about Cannes as she has been a film critic and celebrity interviewer for years. I read that Sara has written over four thousand movie reviews. WOW. I’d love to have coffee with Sara and talk endlessly about her experiences. Did she giggle while watching Blades of Glory? And wasn’t Joaquin Phoenix robbed of an Oscar for his role in Walk the Line?

The Lumiere Affair is about a woman named Natalie Conway who like Sara, is a film critic. She travels to Europe to cover the Cannes Film Festival but isn’t sure how she feels about being in France. An accident in Paris as a child has haunted her all her life. While in Cannes, she uncovers a huge secret about her mother and we are taken on a whirlwind literary adventure with a stunning conclusion.

This is a well written book, a fabulous debut novel. It’s a mystery, but is also about family and the ties we have to those we love and have left but not forgotten. It’s surprising and interesting and fun. Highly recommended!

It must be really thrilling to meet so many celebrities. What is not glamorous about interviewing famous people?

The first celebrities I ever spoke to were Debra Winger and Nick Nolte, at a movie junket for Canary Row. I was so nervous when I met Nick Nolte, he took pity on me and asked himself the questions I'd written for him. I thought it was all glamorous beyond my wildest dreams, but a couple of the veteran film critics I met on that junket, who'd been doing junkets for years, predicted that it would take six months of regular every week-end flying to LA or New York to talk to celebrities before I became jaded -- before it was no longer glamorous to me and it started to feel like a job. I lasted about a year before I started wishing I could stay home and go to a soccer game or have friends over for dinner on Saturday night instead of flying off to talk to another movie star about his movie.

You don't get a lot of sympathy for that, however. Because everyone assumes that sitting down for an interview with Brad Pitt or Charlize Theron is ultra-glam. But even though they are every bit as gorgeous and glowing and gifted as you think they're going to be, they are just people -- better looking and luckier than most of the people we spend our days with, but just people like us. And the reality is that every interview they have is just part of their job, as it is for us. Actors make movies knowing they'll have to talk to the press at junkets, which means dozens of interviews per day. So no matter how many times you talk to her, it's hard to strike up a special bond with Cameron Diaz when you're one of a seventy-five journalists.

And during the interview itself, there are cameras and technicians and publicists and other star handlers in the room watching the interview. For print, there are maybe six journalists sitting around a table asking the star questions. So there's no illusion that they're there to meet you.

After you've been doing interviews for a long time, you reach a point where Brad or Cameron or Charlize recognize you, But for both of you it's a job, which has the potential of being interesting and satisfying, but not exactly glamorous.

In the book Natalie had a stressful schedule while in Cannes. What have your own experiences been like? Have you ever gone as an observer not a member of the press?

Have you ever been body surfing? Cannes is a little like the first few attempts to ride a wave. Until you get the hang of it, you get pounded head first into the sand, over and over. Every time you go again, you get pounded a few times before your body remembers how. I've covered the festival five times, for print and for television, and my schedule has always been as frenetic as Nattie's, with three or four movies a day, press conferences for at least two of them, roundtable interviews with actors and directors, and maybe a party late at night where stuffed mushrooms and cheeseballs serve as lunch and dinner. So many interviews, so many movies, so many parties, so little sleep.

The only time I've gone as an observer was this year, when I was there during the first few days of the festival for a booksigning of The Lumiere Affair. This year was the 60th anniversary, so there were even more journalists and moviemakers and studio people than I've seen there before. It's a marketplace, after all. People are there to sell and buy movies. But I wished I were there as part of the press. It was odd to see my fellow journalists shoving and elbowing for a place in line to see a movie and not be shoving and elbowing along with them. I had Survivor's Guilt.

Have you ever met Angelina Jolie? *sigh* Id love to meet her. Who are your favorite celebs?

You're right about Angelina -- she's a phenomenon, and she's come a long way from those early years of wearing a vial of Billy Bob's blood around her neck or painting her first husband Jonny Lee Miller's name in her own blood on the back of her wedding shirt. Now she seems to be trying to live a noble life, which can't be easy in the midst of the almost irresistible seduction of staying shallow and self-absorbed in Hollywood. I've talked to her several times, and I've always been impressed by her intensity and intelligence, especially after she and Brad Pitt gave a million dollars to charity and she said, "We make a stupid amount of money for what we do." Have you ever heard a movie star admit that?

My favorite celebs are all people with the qualities I also like in my friends: humor, intelligence, the ability to take their work seriously but not to take themselves too seriously, a sense of their responsibility to others. The flashy star quality that you'd think would make a favorite interview fades almost immediately when you're face to face with the reality. I have an endless number of favorites . . . Meryl Streep, Robert Redford, Denzel Washington, Johnny Depp, Robin Williams, Will Smith, William H Macy ... people whose company I've genuinely enjoyed.

I don't think I've ever read a novel where someone gets struck by lightening. What was your inspiration for that unusual accident?

A high school friend of mine was struck by lightning in the mountains of Colorado when she was 20 and on a picnic with a new boyfriend. The lightning hit her zipper and bounced into her boyfriend's watch. When she woke up, she was in the hospital, and she had a horrible burn on her stomach. There was an article about them in the paper, saying she was 20 (she was) and he was 30 (he was). They had told each other they were 25. Oops. They were each affected by the lightning in different ways, and I became sort of obsessed with various kinds of lightning and the massive power it has, to interrupt our lives in 3 milliseconds. It's a wonderful natural metaphor for what Shakespeare called Outrageous Fortune. Who knows when it's going to find you? What shape will it take? How it will leave you?

If you could spend the rest of your life doing one job, what would it be and why? Would it be traveling to Cannes every year and rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous?

I'd be writing fiction. Creating it is even more fun than watching it or reading it. You get up every morning and there's always the chance that something you don't know about yet is going to happen to one of your characters. I once wrote an angry letter to John Irving, when he suddenly had an entire family of characters I'd come to love (including the dog) die in a plane crash in The Hotel New Hampshire. I was furious. He wrote me back and said he was truly sorry, but he didn't know they were going to die until they were on their way to Europe and the plane just crashed: it was an accident. I didn't understand then that sometimes your own characters do things, or fate does things to them that you have no control over.

I probably wouldn't be traveling to Cannes every year, but I'd definitely be seeing movies and writing about them. I have a French friend who maintains that she could never live in America because we have no bidets. "La vie sans bidet n'est pas la vie," she says: Life without a bidet is not life. I feel that way about movies -- life without movies would not be life.

What are your favorite all- time movies, the ones you could watch over and over and never get tired of?

Ooh-la-la. Big question. I have new favorites every year, and I can watch almost anything over and over as long as I'm awake. Musicals, comedies, animated features, action movies, foreign language films, documentaries. you name it.

A question I can answer, which I always ask actors and directors when there's a lull in the interview, is this: what movie had the greatest impact on you? You'd be surprised at the kind of movies that have changed peoples' lives. Nicole Kidman's movie was The Wizard of Oz. Kevin Costner's was Ben Hur, which he read on the marquis when he was something like seven. I have a friend who decided to get a divorce when he saw All That Jazz .. another friend who decided to leave her husband when she saw Prince of Tides. Movies expand us in odd directions.

The movie that had the greatest impact on me was El Cid, with Charleton Heston and Sophia Loren. I saw it when I was just trying to figure out for myself what it meant to love another person, what loyalty and courage were, what it meant to be a woman. I saw it again when Martin Scorsese had it refurbished and released it in the '90s. It was still powerful, but I realized I haven't made much headway in my efforts to become Sophia Loren.

Have you gone back and read the novel since it's been published? How long did it take from start to finish to write?

Authors are always talking about how long it took them to write their books. When Steven King heard that William Styron maintained it took ten years to write Sophie's Choice, and Charles Frazier said it took that long to write Cold Mountain, he said, "Those guys were just dickin' around." I don't know about that. The Lumiere Affair took at least five years, from the day I wrote the first line to the day it was published -- including the first draft, rewrites, editing, and then the long wait for publication once Simon and Schuster bought it. People like Steven King and Tony Hillerman, who also writes about a mystery per year, are heroic to me.

How do you unwind after a long day of writing?

In descending order of mental challenge:
A long bike ride.
A short bike ride.
A walk with the dog.
Dinner with my husband, somewhere I don't have to cook.
Anything I've TIVO'ed
DVDs of past TV shows (eg. Star Trek SNG, Grey's Anatomy, Six Feet Under)
Coffee ice cream

With all the details you include in the book, its obvious you've been to France. What would be your recommendations on what to see and do there? So many little cafes, so little time.

First, "do" Paris. That's a big order, and if you haven't been there, you'll have lots of famous places you'll already want to see in Paris. You can't go wrong with any restaurant in the city. Eat as much and see as many sights as you have time for.

Then, happily, the rest of France awaits you, and there is something for everyone somewhere in the country: the Alps if you like to ski or hike, the Riviera if you like to swim and eat fish, the Loire Valley if you like wine, the Bordeaux Region if you like prehistoric sights (the Lascaux caves). When I was in school in Tours during college, I made friends with some people in the Kayak-Canoe Club of France, and traveled from one end of the country to the other, following the rivers. It's one of the most magnificent countries on earth, but most tourists stay in Paris.

What is your favorite treat when you want to indulge in something?

Besides coffee ice cream and the "Movies" section on DirecTV? I managed to resist getting cable for many years, but The Daily Show and Steven Colbert pushed us over the edge. We had to watch them. That was a year ago. Since then I've indulged in so much coffee ice cream in front of so many late-night movie marathons I can't even count the number of bleary-eyed mornings after 4 hours of sleep I've stumbled into consciousness. Note to self: never eat Starbuck's Classic Coffee ice cream after 8 pm.

Are you currently working on another novel?

The Korean woman Nattie meets at Cannes thought that a happy ending depends on where you stop the story. Maybe I stopped The Lumiere Affair too soon, because Nattie still has some things she needs to face. I'm working on a continuation of her story.

I think it was Balzac who said that every real writer has at least two drawers filled with first chapters. I'm still on my first drawer.

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